Language of document : ECLI:EU:C:2015:686

Case C‑216/14

Criminal proceedings
against

Gavril Covaci

(Request for a preliminary ruling
from the Amtsgericht Laufen)

(Reference for a preliminary ruling — Judicial cooperation in criminal matters — Directive 2010/64/EU — Right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings — Language of the proceedings — Penalty order imposing a fine — Possibility of lodging an objection in a language other than the language of the proceedings — Directive 2012/13/EU — Right to information in criminal proceedings — Right to be informed of the charge — Service of a penalty order — Procedures — Mandatory appointment by the accused person of person authorised to accept service — Period for lodging an objection running from service on the person authorised to accept service)

Summary — Judgment of the Court (First Chamber), 15 October 2015

1.        Judicial cooperation in criminal matters — Right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings — Directive 2010/64 — Scope — Objection against an order which is not final imposing a criminal conviction and made in a simplified procedure — Included

(European Parliament and Council Directive 2010/64, Art. 1)

2.        Judicial cooperation in criminal matters — Right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings — Directive 2010/64 — Scope — National rules requiring the addressee of a document imposing a criminal conviction to lodge an appeal against that document in the language of the proceedings of the Member State from which the document originates — Whether permissible — Limit — Document initiating the appeal constituting an essential document

(European Parliament and Council Directive 2010/64, Arts 1 to 3)

3.        Judicial cooperation in criminal matters — Right to information in criminal proceedings — Directive 2012/13 — Right of suspected or accused persons to be informed of their rights and the accusations against them — Scope

(European Parliament and Council Directive 2012/13, Arts 1, 3 and 6)

4.        Judicial cooperation in criminal matters — Right to information in criminal proceedings — Directive 2012/13 — Scope — Objection against an order which is not final imposing a criminal conviction and made in a simplified procedure — Included

(European Parliament and Council Directive 2012/13, Art. 6)

5.        Judicial cooperation in criminal matters — Right to information in criminal proceedings — Directive 2012/13 — Right to information about the accusation — Scope — Service of a document imposing a criminal conviction — Procedures — National rules requiring the appointment of a person authorised to accept service for persons not residing in the Member State from which the document originates — Whether permissible — Condition — Benefit of the whole of the appeal period by the addressee

(European Parliament and Council Directive 2012/13, Arts 2, 3(1)(c) and 6(1) and (3))

1.        The situation of a person who wishes to lodge an objection against a penalty order which has not yet acquired the force of res judicata and of which he is the addressee falls within the scope of Directive 2010/64 on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings, with the result that that person must be able to exercise the right to interpretation and translation guaranteed by that directive.

(see paras 26, 27)

2.        Articles 1 to 3 of Directive 2010/64 on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings must be interpreted as not precluding national legislation which, in criminal proceedings, does not permit the individual against whom a penalty order has been made to lodge an objection in writing against that order in a language other than that of the proceedings, even though that individual does not have a command of the language of the proceedings, provided that the competent authorities do not consider, in accordance with Article 3(3) of that directive, that, in the light of the proceedings concerned and the circumstances of the case, such an objection constitutes an essential document.

First, the right to interpretation provided for in Article 2 of Directive 2010/64 concerns the translation by an interpreter of the oral communications between suspected or accused persons and the investigative and judicial authorities or, where relevant, legal counsel, to the exclusion of the written translation of any written document produced by those suspected or accused persons. Accordingly, that article ensures that a person can obtain the free assistance of an interpreter, if that person himself orally lodges an objection against the penalty order of which he is the subject at the registry of the competent national court, so that that registry records that objection, or, if that person lodges an objection in writing, can obtain the assistance of legal counsel, who will take responsibility for the drafting of the appropriate document, in the language of the proceedings. However, to require Member States not only to enable the persons concerned to be informed, fully and in their language, of the facts alleged against them and to provide their own version of those facts, but also to take responsibility, as a matter of course, for the translation of every appeal brought by the persons concerned against a judicial decision which is addressed to them would go beyond the objectives pursued by Directive 2010/64.

Secondly, the right to translation of certain essential documents laid down in Article 3(1) and (2) of Directive 2010/64 concerns, in principle, only the written translation into the language understood by the person concerned of certain documents drawn up in the language of the proceedings by the competent authorities. It does not include, in principle, the written translation into the language of the proceedings of a document such as an objection lodged against a penalty order.

However, given that Article 3(3) of that directive allows the competent authorities to decide, in any given case, whether any document other than those provided for in Article 3(1) and (2) of that directive is essential, it is for the referring court, taking into account in particular the characteristics of the procedure applicable to such a penalty order and of the case brought before it, to establish whether the objection lodged in writing against a penalty order should be considered to be an essential document, the translation of which is necessary. In that regard, the facts that that objection, which can be submitted in writing or, where it is lodged orally, directly at the registry of the competent court, is not subject to the obligation to state reasons, must be lodged within a particularly short period of two weeks from service of that order and does not require the mandatory involvement of a lawyer, and that it is drawn up by the person concerned in a language of which he has a command, but which is not the language of the proceedings, are relevant.

(see paras 38, 40-44, 47, 49-51, operative part 1)

3.        As is apparent from a reading of Article 3 in conjunction with Article 6 of Directive 2012/13 on the right to information in criminal proceedings, the right to information of suspects or accused persons, relating to their rights in criminal proceedings and to the accusation against them, referred to in Article 1 of that directive, concerns at least two separate rights, namely, first, the right of suspects or accused persons to be informed, in accordance with Article 3 of that directive, at least, of certain procedural rights, including the right of access to a lawyer, any entitlement to free legal advice and the conditions for obtaining such advice, the right to be informed of the accusation, the right to interpretation and translation and the right to remain silent and, secondly, the right to information about the accusation, established in Article 6 of that directive.

(see paras 54-56)

4.        The situation of a person referred to by a penalty order which is a provisional decision issued upon application by the Public Prosecutor’s Office in the case of a minor offence and which was made without a hearing or a trial inter partes and will not acquire the force of res judicata before the expiry of the prescribed period for lodging an objection against it falls within the scope of Directive 2012/13 on the right to information in criminal proceedings, with the result that the person concerned must be able to exercise the right, throughout the proceedings, to be informed of the accusation.

While it is admittedly true that, because of the summary and simplified nature of the proceedings at issue, the service of such a penalty order is effected only after the court has ruled on the merits of the accusation, the fact remains that, in that order, the court rules only provisionally and that the service of that order represents the first opportunity for the accused person to be informed of the accusation against him. Consequently, in accordance with Article 6 of Directive 2012/13, the service of a penalty order must be considered to be a form of communication of the accusation against the person concerned, with the result that it must comply with the requirements set out in that article.

(see paras 59-61)

5.        Articles 2, 3(1)(c) and 6(1) and (3) of Directive 2012/13 on the right to information in criminal proceedings must be interpreted as not precluding legislation of a Member State which, in criminal proceedings, makes it mandatory for an accused person not residing in that Member State to appoint a person authorised to accept service of a penalty order concerning him, provided that that accused person does in fact have the benefit of the whole of the prescribed period for lodging an objection against that order.

Both the objective of enabling the accused person to prepare his defence and the need to avoid any kind of discrimination between (i) accused persons with a residence within the jurisdiction of the national law concerned and (ii) accused persons whose residence does not fall within that jurisdiction, who alone are required to appoint a person authorised to accept service of judicial decisions, require the whole of that period to be available to the accused person, that is to say without the duration of that period being reduced by the time needed by the authorised person to transmit the penalty order to its addressee.

(see paras 65-68, operative part 2)