Courts could be forced to hire interpreters

A proposed new law could mean that Swedish courts will have to offer interpreters to anyone who requests one during a trial.

It is currently up to the courts to determine whether there is a need for an interpreter in a legal proceeding.

Now, a state inquest suggests a law change that would give defendants the right to an interpreter and oblige courts to comply with their request.

Courts should also, in the first instance, hire licensed legal interpreters.

The proposed law is based on a European Union directive.

It would strengthen suspects’ rights both in police questionings and in trials.

“This would involve stronger rights for suspects and defendants throughout the legal process”, said Jennie Bergling, a public prosecutor at the Legal, Financial and Administrative Services Agency (Kammarkollegiet), which is the body that accredits interpreters and translators.

According to the Crime Prevention Council (Brottsförebyggande rådet), people with foreign backgrounds are at a disadvantage in the legal process due to communication difficulties.

In 2011, researchers at Lund University warned that half of Sweden’s interpreters lacked knowledge to the point that it threatened the rule of law.

The researchers urged the state to invest in training interpreters and in demanding that courts hire accredited interpreters.

The report said one reason behind the dearth of qualified interpreters in Sweden could be the unstable work conditions and poor pay, with fees remaining the same since the 1990s.

A recent study carried out by the Swedish Courts Administration (Domstolsverket) showed that, among Swedish courts, one in four does not require interpreters to have accreditation.

There are currently 204 accredited legal interpreters in Sweden – and that might not be enough to meet the demand if the proposed law is passed.

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