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9 Right to an Interpreter

From: The Right to a Fair Trial in International Law

Amal Clooney, Philippa Webb

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved.date: 18 September 2021

Right to fair trial — Human rights remedies — Interpretation of judgments — Translations — Reservations and exceptions — Waiver — Remedies — Remedies and costs

This chapter examines the right to an interpreter. The frequent movement of people around the world and the multicultural make-up of many countries mean that interpretation and translation services are required and used to a great extent in certain jurisdictions. The right to an interpreter does not mean that defendants are entitled to an interpreter simply because their native language is different from the language used in court, as long as they sufficiently understand and speak that language. Similarly, when interpretation is required, this does not per se have to be provided in the native language of the defendant. And if defendants feel there are any issues with the quality of the interpretation provided to them, and this is not apparent to the court, they are required to put the authorities on notice as they cannot later complain about their rights being violated if they failed to inform the authorities. The judge must ensure that the absence of an interpreter does not prejudice the defendant. Ultimately, the challenging issues that national courts confront when attempting to give effect to this right include assessing the defendant’s level of understanding; considering whether the right belongs to the defendant or the defence as a whole; determining the scope of the related right to translation of documents; and balancing the right to interpretation or translation against the right to be tried without undue delay.

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