In late November 2009, the Council of the European Union put forth a plan for addressing the inconsistent standards in the criminal proceedings of its Member States. Their interests were both technical and philosophical. On the one hand, standardization could provide for easy cooperation between the Member States in the execution of the European arrest warrant and facilitate the mutual recognition of their judicial decisions. On the other hand, standardization could improve the ability of Member States to meet the standards for a fair trial as established by European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Among those issues that came into focus over the months that followed: the minimum procedural rights for suspected or accused persons in criminal proceedings who do not speak or understand the language of the procedures.
What the Council went on to do more than meets the challenge.
On 20 October 2010, the European Parliament and the Council issued Directive 2010/64/EU “to improve mutual trust between European Union countries and to ensure the right to a fair trial, [by setting forth] common minimum rules in the field of interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings.”
As the Irish Times reported, the deadline for Member States to implement the law was reached just last week. Because Member States were provided with an unusual three years to adopt the rules, rather than the usual two, the European Union is not shying away from tough talk on its expectations for full compliance. Vice-President Viviane Reding, European Union Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship said, “I expect Member States to deliver too. The European Commission will soon report on who has done their homework. We will not shy away from naming and shaming — after all, this law goes to the very heart of citizens’ rights.”
Below is a summary of those rights as provided by EUR-LEX, the database for direct free access to European Union law. Key things to note: these are for the rights of suspected and accused persons and are guaranteed under the law from the first point of criminal legal contact and on through the last. Moreover, the costs are born by the Member States, not the suspect or accused person.
You have the right to interpretation
Whether in an interrogation room with the police or in an office with your lawyer, suspected and accused persons of the European Union are guaranteed the right to an interpreter working in their native language or in any other language that the suspect or accused person speaks or understands. If an interpreter cannot be physically present, other communication means such as telephone, videoconferencing, and Internet can be substituted, provided that these otherwise safeguard fairness.
You have the right to translation
Suspected and accused persons of the European Union are guaranteed the right to the translation of all essential documents to the ensurance of fair proceedings. Essential documents are defined as those that are “any decision depriving a person of liberty, any charge or indictment, and any judgment.”
You have the right to challenge and complain
The Council has anticipated the issues that could mean the difference between a fair trial and a kangaroo court. Member States are required to maintain a register of qualified translators and interpreters. If the suspected or accused person has been denied translation or believes that the quality of the provided interpretation and translation services were too poor to safeguard fair proceedings then Member States must provide for the rights to challenge both.
Read more on the right to interpretation and translation on the website of the Justice Commission of the European Union.