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Right of the accused to interpretation and translation

What happens when someone accused of a crime faces criminal proceedings in a language he does not understand? How can the right of every individual to a fair trial be ensured in the face of such language barriers?

In 2010, the EU adopted legislation that entitles defendants in criminal proceedings to interpretation and translation services in a language they understand.
See: Directive on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedingspdf

By ensuring the full exercise of the rights of the defence, this law safeguards the fairness of judicial proceedings throughout the EU. The adoption of these common standards across Europe reinforces the mutual trust of EU countries in each other's legal systems.

The Directive requires EU countries to put in place the following minimum mechanisms:

Interpretation services

Services should be provided free of charge where necessary for the purpose of safeguarding the fairness of the proceedings. This includes during:

  • police questioning,
  • essential meetings between client and lawyer, and
  • all court hearings and any necessary interim hearings.

Remote interpretation via videoconference, telephone, or Internet can be used if the physical presence of the interpreter is not required to safeguard fairness.

Translation of essential documents

Suspected or accused persons who do not understand the language of the proceedings must be provided with a written translation of documents that are essential for them to exercise their right of defence. This includes:

  • any decision depriving a person of his liberty,
  • any charge or indictment, and
  • any judgment.

Quality control

Translation and interpretation services should be of a quality sufficient to ensure that suspected or accused persons understand the case against them and are able to exercise their right of defence.

To ensure access to qualified legal interpreters and translators, EU countries are asked to set up a register of independent and qualified translators and interpreters which should be available to legal counsels and relevant authorities.


Judges, prosecutors and judicial staff involved in criminal proceedings should be trained to communicate efficiently with interpreters.

This Directive is in line with the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), as interpreted in the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). It was adopted following the 2009 Roadmap for strengthening procedural rightspdf.