European Court of Human Rights - case of Luedicke, Belkacem and Koç v. Germany (1978) (excerpts)

European Court of Human Rights - case of Luedicke, Belkacem and Koç v. Germany (1978) (excerpts)

(...)


40. The Court finds, as did the Commission, that the terms

"gratuitement"/"free" in Article 6 para. 3 (e) (art. 6-3-e) have in

themselves a clear and determinate meaning. In French, "gratuitement"

signifies "d'une manière gratuite, qu'on donne pour rien, sans

rétribution" (Littré, Dictionnaire de la langue française), "dont on

jouit sans payer" (Hatzfeld et Darmesteter, Dictionnaire général de la

langue française), "à titre gratuit, sans avoir rien à payer", the

opposite of "à titre onéreux" (Larousse, Dictionnaire de la langue

française), "d'une manière gratuite; sans rétribution, sans

contrepartie" (Robert, Dictionnaire alphabétique et analogique de la

langue française). Similarly, in English, "free" means "without

payment, gratuitous" (Shorter Oxford Dictionary), "not costing or

charging anything, given or furnished without cost or payment"

(Webster's Third New International Dictionary).


Consequently, the Court cannot but attribute to the terms

"gratuitement" and "free" the unqualified meaning they ordinarily have

in both of the Court's official languages: these terms denote neither

a conditional remission, nor a temporary exemption, nor a suspension,

but a once and for all exemption or exoneration. It nevertheless

remains to be determined whether, as the Government contend, the

context as well as the object and purpose of the provision in issue

negative the literal interpretation.

(...)

48. Before the Court a difference of opinion emerged between the

Government and the Commission as to which costs come within the scope

of Article 6 para. 3 (e) (art. 6-3-e). In the Government's submission,

Article 6 para. 3 (e) (art. 6-3-e) "unambiguously and expressly settles

the assistance of an interpreter at the oral hearing (audience)" but

does not apply to other interpretation costs.


The Government's contention, the correctness of which is contested

by the Delegates, cannot be accepted by the Court. Article 6 para. 3 (e)

(art. 6-3-e) does not state that every accused person has the right to

receive the free assistance of an interpreter at the oral hearing (à

l'audience); it states that this right is accorded to him "if he

cannot understand or speak the language used in court" ("s'il ne

comprend pas ou ne parle pas la langue employée à l'audience").

As was pointed out by the Delegates, the latter words do no more than

indicate the conditions for the granting of the free assistance of an

interpreter. Furthermore, the English text "used in court", being

wider than the French expression "employée à l'audience" (literally

translated as "used at the hearing"), furnishes an additional argument

in this respect.


Construed in the context of the right to a fair trial guaranteed by

Article 6, paragraph 3 (e) (art. 6-3-e) signifies that an accused who

cannot understand or speak the language used in court has the right to

the free assistance of an interpreter for the translation or

interpretation of all those documents or statements in the proceedings

instituted against him which it is necessary for him to understand in

order to have the benefit of a fair trial.