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EU Agency for Fundamental Rights Publishes Report on Ireland's Treatment of EU Citizens in the Criminal Justice System

10th November 2016

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) launched a number of reports today in Bratislava, examining how EU Member States treat suspects and accused from other EU nations in accessing translators and statutory information in their first language, as well as nation-specific protocols for cross-border transfers of prisoners and those on probation within the EU. It is hoped the reports will go some way towards ensuring uniformity in the way individual EU states treat suspects, accused, and prisoners from other EU states, in order to guarantee the rights of all citizens to justice and fair treatment across the European Union.

One report, Rights of Suspected and Accused Persons Across the EU: Translation, Interpretation and Information, highlights the innate vulnerability of those with poor knowledge of the vernacular language in countries where they are under arrest or facing trial, and their right to access translators, interpreters and information in a language they can understand in order to guarantee their right to fair and equal treatment. Another report, Criminal Detention and Alternatives: Fundamental Rights Aspects in EU Cross-Border Transfers, examined the procedures and practices in place for the transfer of prisoners and those on probation between EU Member States.

In addition, the FRA also published country-specific reports relating to the themes of language and transfer. Ireland's tendency to rely on informal, ad hoc practice rather than formal, stated policy and procedure was a recurrent theme in the report. The report noted the ad hoc approach to assessing the need for interpreters during Garda questioning and in court, with the onus largely placed on the solicitor to source an interpreter. The problematic nature of this informal process was highlighted in a concerning anecdote given by a participant in the project, who recalled a case before the introduction of a 2010 EU Directive 'where an accused brought his ten year old daughter to interpret for the Circuit Court. Upon seeing this the practitioner requested that an interpreter be provided at the Circuit Court and subsequently parties had to wait for an available interpreter to arrive for the case. However, the child had been allowed to interpret in the District Court'. Similarly, the lack of a minimum standard for translators in practice was highlighted, as was the absence of a disclosure of conflicts of interest to cases by the interpreters.

Upon the launch of the reports, the FRA's Director and former Chair of IPRT, Michael O'Flaherty commented, 'Protecting the rights of people involved in criminal proceedings is a hallmark of fair justice systems. When it comes to justice across borders, we need to boost trust between national judiciaries. This is the only way we can ensure that people will be fairly treated'.

For more on this issue, please see:

  • FRA's Rights of Suspected and Accused Persons Across the EU: Translation, Interpretation and Information, available here, and Criminal Detention and Alternatives: Fundamental Rights Aspects in EU Cross-Border Transfers, available here.
  • The FRA's Ireland-specific reports, on cross-border transfer and access to translation.
  • The FRA's press release on the launch of its reports, which can be found here.