The language of the court is German – Strafbefehle

I wrote something about Strafbefehle a year ago.

A Strafbefehl (order of summary punishment) is a charge finding that you have committed a minor offence and imposing a fine. If you disagree, you can object and elevate the matter to criminal legal proceedings. It’s a bit like a parking ticket.

When I was living in Germany and translating for the courts as a certified translator, I originally used to get Strafbefehle to translate, and I used to teach students to translate them into English, but the requests became fewer and fewer. There is a theory that German judges know that the language of the courts is German and therefore do not order translations. But I suspect the general decision to cut down on costs occurs at a higher level.

But it does seem wrong for a foreigner, who may not speak German, to get a German document through the post without any way of understanding it supplied.

There’s now been a decision by Freiburg Regional Court (Landgericht) that a Strafbefehl is not effectively served to a non-speaker of German until the translation is served. (There was a similar decision by the Stuttgart Regional Court in 2014).

Sources from the blog of Detlef Burhoff, Rechtsanwalt and former judge at the Higher Regional Court who often deals with translation questions (Nochmals: Strafbefehl – nur mit Übersetzung ist Zustellung wirksam….) – thanks also to Igor Plotkin, a fellow-translator, for frequently mentioning the issue.

The story in Freiburg was that a Strafbefehl was issued against a Georgian speaker on 13.11.2014, but it was not until 24.08.2015 that a translation into Georgian was provided to the defendant, who was in prison (not sure if there was a connection here). Consequently the defendant’s objection filed on 28.08.2015 was within the time limits, contrary to the view of the lower court. The defendant had been informed of his rights by the police by means of a printout in the Georgian language (I wonder if their Georgian is as good as their English? I know Georgian is a tough language so probably they had someone good to write it).

The basis of all this is section 187 of the Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz (‘official’ translation: Courts Constitution Act).

§ 187
(2) Erforderlich zur Ausübung der strafprozessualen Rechte des Beschuldigten, der der deutschen Sprache nicht mächtig ist, ist in der Regel die schriftliche Übersetzung von freiheitsentziehenden Anordnungen sowie von Anklageschriften, Strafbefehlen und nicht rechtskräftigen Urteilen. Eine auszugsweise schriftliche Übersetzung ist ausreichend, wenn hierdurch die strafprozessualen Rechte des Beschuldigten gewahrt werden. Die schriftliche Übersetzung ist dem Beschuldigten unverzüglich zur Verfügung zu stellen. An die Stelle der schriftlichen Übersetzung kann eine mündliche Übersetzung der Unterlagen oder eine mündliche Zusammenfassung des Inhalts der Unterlagen treten, wenn hierdurch die strafprozessualen Rechte des Beschuldigten gewahrt werden. Dies ist in der Regel dann anzunehmen, wenn der Beschuldigte einen Verteidiger hat.

Translation provided by Kathleen Müller-Rostin.

Section 187

(1) …
(2) As a rule, a written translation of custodial orders as well as of bills of indictment, penal orders and non-binding judgments shall be necessary for the exercise of the rights under the law of criminal procedure of an accused who does not have a command of the German language. An excerpted written translation shall be sufficient if the rights of the accused under the law of criminal procedure are thereby safeguarded. The written translation shall be made available to the accused without delay. An oral translation of the documents or an oral summary of the content of the documents may be substituted for a written translation if the rights of the accused under the law of criminal procedure are thereby safeguarded. As a rule, this can be assumed if the accused has defence counsel.

Comments: nicht rechtskräftige Urteile: non-binding judgments is odd – I would say judgments that are not (yet) final and non-appealable.

who does not have a command of the German languagewho does not speak German

eine auszugsweise schriftliche Überetzung – difficult – excerpted sounds to me as if it was the whole thing, taken from a different source – a written translation of parts of the document?
There is repeated use of the rights of the accused under the law of criminal procedure – I feel like writing the accused’s criminal-procedure rights but maybe that is too compressed.

4 thoughts on “The language of the court is German – Strafbefehle

  1. That’s intriguing, Margaret. It must be a matter of legal and lingusitic expedience that the translations of ‘Strafbefehle’ I receive – out of Freiburg im Breisgau in Germany vs. in Switzerland – for editing are all into British English for service, predominantly upon non-German fare-dodgers, refugees and asylum-seekers from local hostels and whose first and even second language cannot be English.

  2. I’m not sure why it’s intriguing, but who do you revise these translations for? Is it an agency which then puts the stamp of a certified translator in Germany on them, or are they not certified, and if they are not certified, are they not for a court but for the fare-dodgers themselves? They should be ordered by a court, and you say they are for service, and the court should be ordering them from certified translators on the judicial list.

  3. The translation you mention into Georgian is the intriguing part, Margaret, namely the way forward now seems to be a blanket shifting into all-purpose English. The court is indeed ordering the translations from an acquaintance of mine who is a local, bilingual Amero-German ‘sworn translator and interpreter’ on the court list..

    The translations – whose American English slant I use my ‘best endeavo(u)rs’ to turn into England & Wales vs. Scots lawspeak – are then posted (in both German and English) to the miscreants themselves.

    BTW, I can see your point about the translation of non-binding judgments being ‘odd’ whilst would add that – if in reverse (im Umkerschluß) the judg(e)ments were rechtskräftig – the word binding would *have* to be used for enforcement in the UK courts

    UK Barristers’ Chambers/Scottish Advocates’ stables + Solicitors’ firms, including one in London’s West End well-known to you, used to call up the translation agency-cum-company where I used to work in London and insist on the words final, *binding* and conclusive being used, e.g. for the benefit of judges at the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand. There was one memorable instance where a City of London law firm suggested professional negligence if they wer unable to enforce an order owing to omission of the word ‘binding’. So unretired translators and interpreters, beware!

  4. I know there’s a lot of interpreting into English for people of various African languages. I would be more worried about that than about the written translation into English. Maybe these people say they can read English. I haven’t had anything to do with this.
    In Germany there used to be a problem where UK etc. divorce decrees, decree nisi, were translated as if they were rechtskräftig, but the stage they had reached did not permit remarriage yet. I remember a note that went out to translators to make this clear. So maybe ‘final, binding and conclusive’ would do as a translation of ‘rechtskräftig’. I suppose the word ‘binding’ is not essential for the UK courts but saves a lot of faffing around.
    I was not so much struck by the translation into Georgian as by the fact that originally no translation whatsoever was supplied. Maybe a translation was demanded then.
    I’ve now seen from online discussions that there is more to this than I remembered, so I will probably write a second post tomorrow.

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