The deadline has passed to implement a European Union (EU) directive that stipulates interpreters and other translation services must be provided during all criminal proceedings.

To become a member of the EU, countries are required to sign the European Convention on Human Rights. One of the stipulations of this is that any individual facing criminal proceedings in one of these countries must be provided with the services of a translator or interpreter if they do not understand the language of the court.

As a result of these rules, residents of the EU have the right to be accompanied by a professional interpreter free-of-charge when they undergo police interrogation; when they attend meetings with their lawyer; and when they appear in court. Anyone suspected or accused of a crime also has the right to a written translation of their detention order, indictment and the judgement handed down to them, along with any other document deemed vital to their ability to fairly defend themselves. In addition, member states agree to establish a register of qualified interpreters and translators that legal authorities are able to access.

The deadline to implement this policy was October 27th. Commenting on the new law, vice-president Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner, said: “This can be a historic moment for justice in Europe: the first-ever law on fair-trial rights for citizens will become a concrete reality.” She added that the Commission would “not shy away from naming and shaming” those member states that have not done the necessary preparation to introduce the new regulations.

Ensuring citizens have the right to an interpreter and translator was the first measure to be introduced by the EU as part of its efforts to establish common standards for all criminal proceedings across the EU. The measure is part of the authority’s campaign to ensure everyone receives a fair trial that they can follow in their mother tongue. By guaranteeing that all citizens will receive a fair trial across the member states, this standard will not diminish if a defendant is called to attend a trial in another country.

Every year in the EU, eight million criminal proceedings take place. Ms. Reding says the new law, which was first proposed in early 2010, “goes to the very heart” of the rights of citizens.

In the UK, the Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ) interpreting contract is handled by Capita. As part of its efforts to save £15 million, the MOJ awarded the five-year contract initially to Applied Language Solutions, which was later acquired by Capita. Over the following year, there were numerous complaints of the interpreters the company supplied not being qualified enough. Some linguists failed to attend court at all, prompting trials to be delayed. However, the company claims improvements are being made.