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Belgium / Constitutional Court / 115/2020

M.D., Council of Ministers

Deciding Body type:
National Court/Tribunal
Deciding Body:
Constitutional Court
Decision date:
Key facts of the case:
After having requested additional investigative acts, the defendant (M.D). requested the Public Prosecutor's Office to translate into French the documents of the criminal file, which were drawn up in German. The prosecutor rejected this request because the official reports drawn up for other cases showed that the M.D. had sufficient knowledge of German. By judgment, the correctional court later granted the defendant's request to conduct the proceedings in French. By judgment of 20 November 2017, M.D. was found guilty of several breaches of social legislation. On appeal, M.D. argued that the lack of a legal remedy against the refusal of the Public Prosecutor's Office to grant his request for translation of the procedural documents had irrevocably deprived him of his rights of defence since, notwithstanding the partial translation ordered by the judgment court, he was no longer able to exercise the rights open to him prior to his referral to the judgment court, namely the right to challenge the investigating judge or to raise the irregularity of the proceedings before the investigating court. The fact that he has no legal remedy against the refusal to have the procedural documents translated also deprives him of his right to an effective legal remedy, which would have enabled him to prove that he does not have sufficient German to have access to the documents in the investigation file on which he must base his defence. The Court of Appeal of Liège referred a preliminary question to the Constitutional Court to determine the compatibility hereof with M.D.’s right to a fair trial, the rights of the defence and with the right to an effective remedy.
Key legal question raised by the Court:
The key legal question was whether Article 22 of the Law of 15 June 1935 on the use of languages in court proceedings, as in force before 1 June 2017 violated Articles 10, 11, 12 and 13 of the Constitution, whether or not read in conjunction with, inter alia, Articles 47 and 48(2) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, in so far as, in the course of a judicial enquiry, the defendant who requested a translation of the case file or certain documents in a national language other than that of the enquiry was obliged to make that request to the Public Prosecutor's Office which, in the subsequent course of the criminal proceedings, assumed the role of prosecutor, without a decision by the Public Prosecutor's Office refusing the translation requested being subject to effective jurisdictional control.
Outcome of the case:
Article 22 of the Act of 15 June 1935, as it was in force before 1 June 2017, does not violate Articles 10, 11 and 13 of the Constitution, read in conjunction with Articles 6 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights or otherwise, Articles 47 and 48(2) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and Article 3(5) of Directive 2010/64/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 October 2010 “on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings”.