I would like to help today and donate

Next
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Next
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
CLOSE
NEWS

Guest Post: Translation and interpretation in France

editor - February 26, 2014

Since October 2013, EU countries have been legally obliged to ensure that anyone arrested or facing criminal charges receives adequate translation and interpretation to understand proceedings. LEAP member James Brannan - an expert lawyer and linguist - examines how France has addressed this new law.  Directive 2010/64/EU, on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings (the Interpretation and Translation Directive), as the first legislative measure adopted under the EU’s Roadmap on Procedural Rights, was due to be implemented in Member States by October 2013. The French government waited until the end of the 3-year transposition period before introducing the relevant legislation (a Law of 5 August 2013 and a Decree of 25 October 2013), amid concerns about possible budgetary consequences, delays in proceedings, and the possibility of pre-trial procedural acts being declared null and void. Interpretation The new law incorporating the Interpretation Directive enacts several changes to France’s existing right to interpretation: i) Language assistance is now guaranteed for meetings between lawyers and clients when necessary, but only on institutional premises, including for consultations prior to the lodging of an appeal or a request for release. ii) The systematic verification of French-language competence is now required in case of doubt, though it is not clear how this will work or what the standards will be. Translation Prior to the implementation of the Interpretation and Translation Directive, translation of documents was rare and not guaranteed. Oral summary by interpreters of written statements has been the practice in police custody. The new legislation earmarks very few documents that will always be translated: pre-trial documents relating to judicial investigation proceedings, some summonses, decisions on pre-trial detention, and judgments (convictions only). It would appear that in practice the intention by many courts is to make extensive use of the oral translation alternative, even though this is supposed to be the exception. The Circular says that essential documents can be translated orally during the meeting with the lawyer, or when a judicial decision is notified or delivered in the presence of an interpreter, or simply when this is “more pertinent or more efficient”. This goes against the spirit of Directive Article 3 which is to provide a written translation to be studied at one’s leisure, particularly with a view to appeal. In general, the authorities are left too much discretion to undermine this new guarantee. Quality Unfortunately, there is no mention in the texts about the guarantee of quality or the possibility of complaining on that basis. Though French interpreters associations have emphasised the importance of using qualified translators/interpreters, this was not taken up in the Decree, with the result remaining that anyone can be called to do the job. The right to complain about an interpreter in pre-trial proceedings is limited to an observation in the file and the possibility to replace the interpreter, without the previous interviews becoming null and void. Lawyers will clearly have to be vigilant in requesting the translation of essential documents on a case-by-case basis, in particular key evidence and experts’ reports, and must also be active on questions of quality of interpretation.

This is a guest post written by  James Brannan and may not reflect the views of Fair Trials International. James is a member of Fair Trials’ Legal Experts Advisory Panel and works as a lawyer-linguist at the European Court of Human Rights. If you are a lawyer or expert interested in writing on the right to a fair trial please contact us. For regular updates follow Fair Trials on Twitter or sign-up to our monthly bulletin at the bottom of the page.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

Keep up to date

Receive updates on our work and news about Fair Trials globally

Activities in the following sections on this website are supported by the Justice Programme of the European Union: Legal Experts Advisory Panel, Defence Rights Map, Case Law Database, Advice Guides and Latest News. More information about our financial supporters is available here.