Strafbefehle must be translated – CJEU

Udo Vetter at lawblog reports that the CJEU held that a Strafbefehl must be translated if the defendant doesn’t speak German. Here’s the decision of October 12 2017.

Directive 2010/64 on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings (you can call up a bilingual version here too). The relevant bit is recital 30:

Safeguarding the fairness of the proceedings requires that essential documents, or at least the relevant passages of such documents, be translated for the benefit of suspected or accused persons in accordance with this Directive.


Zur Gewährleistung eines fairen Verfahrens ist es erforderlich, dass wesentliche Unterlagen oder zumindest die maßgeblichen Passagen solcher Unterlagen für die verdächtigen oder beschuldigten Personen gemäß dieser Richtlinie übersetzt werden.

A Dutch national, Frank Sleutjes, was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and served the Strafbefehl (order of summary punishment) in German – only the details on how to appeal were translated. The Düren local court did not translate the order itself – normal practice nowadays. The European court finds that the Strafbefehl is an essential document.

I last discussed the subject here (the language of the court is German). We used to translate these all the time and presumably local courts will now be obliged to have them translated again.

There is not (yet) an English translation of the decision online, but there is an English translation of the Advocate General’s opinion. I see they translate Strafbefehl as penal order. I am not convinced by Tagessätze as daily penalties. More on the English perhaps later.

There is an amusing exchange in the comments on lawblog.

Bin mir nicht sicher wie ich das sehen soll.
Auf der einen Seite müssen die Leute den Text verstehen können, schon klar.
Auf der anderen Seite, woher weiß ich die Sprache die die Person spricht und wo nehme ich die Übersetzer her?
AFAIK gibt es etwa 7000 Sprachen weltweit. Und für die soll man nun immer Übersetzer vorhalten?
Klingt irgendwie nicht so gut durchdacht.

There’s a nice reference to the defendant (Beschuldiger) as “der Delinquent”.

3 thoughts on “Strafbefehle must be translated – CJEU

  1. Tagessätze: perhaps just stick in the idea of a unit: namely ‘daily unit(-)fines’ > I would say ‘(thirty) daily units’

    – and as with the short-lived UK Criminal Justice Act 1991 (on which there had been a memorable ITI/LIFT seminar in London’s Bloomsbury the same year, led by a Barrister who had helped draft the legislation and plagued by gatecrashers)

    – or, in the US courts literally, Day Fines or Day Fine Units

    Penalty: usually civil and criminal vs. fine: criminal-only.

  2. Yes, Adrian, that’s how I used to teach it. Daily units. I have discussed this all before, of course, as you say:
    so there’s no need to repeat it. I think the terminologically useful units introduced unsuccessfully in England were weekly units, and people were shocked at the variation in charges for people with low and high incomes, so they weren’t accepted by the public.

    What I have not done is had a good look at any other vocabulary which may come up in this case.

    I can’t agree with you about fine being a purely criminal term. After all, I might pay a library fine for keeping a book too long, but I don’t think it’s a criminal matter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.