13th May 2021

MEPs back translation rights for EU citizens in criminal trials

  • Due to increasing mobility, there is a higher chance that people become involved in criminal proceedings in a country other than their own (Photo: EUobserver)

An overwhelming majority of MEPs in the European Parliament's civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee on Thursday (8 April) backed plans to secure EU citizens interpretation in their own language when facing criminal trial in another EU member state.

A German football fan arrested in Spain or an Italian tourist involved in a traffic accident in Sweden would, under the proposed rules, have the right to interpretation during an inquiry, for example during police questioning and in communication with lawyers.

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Translation and interpretation costs will have to be met by the member state, not by the suspect, MEPs said.

"Any extra costs that the directive will impose on member states are the irreducible cost of ensuring fair trials and avoiding miscarriages of justice and will in any case be balanced by fewer costly appeals and delays," said UK Liberal deputy Sarah Ludford, charged with steering the legislation through parliament.

Member states would also be responsible for the training of translators and interpreters, for the legal work and for setting up a cross-border register of independent professional translators and interpreters available for lawyers and relevant authorities.

The draft law will also apply to European Arrest Warrant cases. Some 11,000 European arrest warrants were issued in 2007, up from 6,900 in 2005. Under Schengen Information II rules, anyone who has a European Arrest Warrant issued against them will be automatically taken into custody.

Talks will now begin with the Council, the EU institution representing member states, with the aim of reaching a compromise deal before the summer.

When presented in December 2009, 13 countries backed the initiative: Belgium, Germany, Estonia, Spain, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Hungary, Austria, Portugal, Romania, Finland and Sweden.

The proposal is the first step in a series of measures in the procedural rights roadmap, adopted by the Council on 30 November 2009, including also the right to legal aid before and during trail, the right to communicate with family members, employers and consular authorities and protection for vulnerable suspects.

Last month commission vice-president Viviane Reding, the EU commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship tabled a directive on the same subject.

"Without minimum common standards to ensure fair proceedings, judicial authorities will be reluctant to send someone to face trial in another country," a press-release from Ms Reding said.

The UK and Ireland have notified their wish to participate in the application of the directive.

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