On 12 October 2017, the Court of Justice (Fifth Chamber) delivered its judgment in case C-278/16, on the interpretation of the concept of “essential document” under Article 3 of Directive 2010/64, which requests Member States to ensure that suspected or accused persons who do not understand the language of the criminal proceedings concerned are, within a reasonable period of time, provided with a written translation of all documents which are essential to ensure that they are able to exercise their right of defence and to safeguard the fairness of the proceedings.
In November 2015, a penalty order was issued against Mr Sleutjes, a Dutch citizen who does not understand German, imposing on him, in particular, a fine for failure to stop at the scene of an accident. The penalty order was notified to Mr Sleutjes in German. It included a translation in Dutch only of the information on legal remedies, specifying that the penal order would become legally binding and enforceable unless the defendant lodged an objection in German within two weeks of notification. His objection in German was dismissed because of its late submission.
In this context, the referring court asks the Court whether a penalty order delivered by a judge following a simplified unilateral procedure, constitutes a ‘document which is essential’ within the meaning of Article 3 of Directive 2010/64, which is to be translated for suspected or accused persons who do not understand the language of the proceedings in question.
Building on the Covaci judgment, the Court held that the penalty order provided for under German law represents both an indictment and a judgment within the meaning of Article 3(2) of Directive 2010/64. In the recalled that the right to translation provided for in this provision is designed to ensure that the persons concerned are able to exercise their right of defence and to safeguard the fairness of the proceedings.
Where a penalty order such as that at issue in the main proceedings is addressed to an individual only in the language of the proceedings in question even though the individual has no command of that language, that individual is unable to understand what is alleged against him, and cannot therefore exercise his rights of defence effectively if he is not provided with a translation of that order in a language which he understands.
The Court therefore found that such a penalty order constitutes a ‘document which is essential’, within the meaning of Article 3(1) of Directive 2010/64, of which a written translation must be provided to suspected or accused persons who do not understand the language of the proceedings in question.
Case Number C‑278/16
Name of the parties Frank Sleutjes
Date of the judgement 2017-10-12
Court Court of Justice (ECJ)