IS, Case C-564/19, CJEU (Grand Chamber), 23 November 2021
The CJEU gave a preliminary ruling on the compatibility of Hungarian legislation on translations and interpreters in criminal proceedings with EU law.
A judge at the Pesti Központi Kerületi Bíróság (Pest Central District Court) was hearing criminal proceedings against a Swedish citizen who did not know Hungarian and was therefore assisted by an interpreter. However, Hungarian law does not regulate in any way the selection of the interpreter, or the verification of his competence, as there is not even an official register of translators and interpreters. Therefore, since neither the lawyer nor the court would have been able to verify the quality of the interpretation, the defendant's right to be informed of his rights and his rights of defence could have been affected. Consequently, the court decided to ask the CJEU about the compatibility of the Hungarian legislation with Directive 2010/64 on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings and Directive 2012/13 on the right to information in criminal proceedings and, in the event of incompatibility, whether the proceedings could continue in the absence of the defendant.
The Court recalled that the Member States must, under Directive 2010/64, take concrete measures to ensure, first, that the quality of the interpretation and translations is sufficient for the suspected or accused person to understand the accusation against him - and, on that point, the establishment of a register of freelance translators or interpreters is one of the means of achieving that objective; on the other hand, it stressed that the measures adopted by the Member States must enable the national courts to verify the sufficient quality of the interpretation in order to guarantee the fairness of the proceedings and the exercise of the rights of the defence. Finally, Directives 2010/64 and 2012/13, read in the light of Article 48(2) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, preclude a person from being judged in absentia where, as a result of inadequate interpretation, he was not informed, in a language which he understood, of the charge against him, or where it is impossible to ascertain the quality of the interpretation provided and thus to establish that he was informed, in a language which he understood, of the charge against him.
(Comment by Alessandro Negri)