During a criminal trial in France, the language used to communicate is French. However, someone involved in the trial may not speak French, or may have a disability such as deafness or be mute. In this case, an interpreter should be used.

The right to an interpreter is now guaranteed in France by the Code of Criminal Procedure. The interpreter’s task is to translate what the judge and the various participants in the trial say, to ensure that the procedure is properly understood and that the best possible judgement is reached. For example, if a witness comes from Spain and does not speak French, the interpreter will translate the questions put to the witness as accurately as possible, and conversely, the interpreter will translate to the judge, in the most precise terms, what the witness has answered.
On the other hand, if the suspect does not speak the language, they also have the right to an interpreter from the beginning to the end of the proceedings, and in particular when talking to their lawyer, if the lawyer is French.

The interpreter has a duty of loyalty. They must be meticulous and translate the words spoken as faithfully as possible into the necessary language, in order to avoid misinformation that could subsequently lead to a poor judgement.

The interpreter also works in writing. This is useful for the accurate translation of essential documents and expert opinions from abroad.

If the judicial authority requires or appoints an interpreter, the interpreter must be chosen from the local Court of Appeal’s national list of judicial experts, or from the list of translators and interpreters drawn up by the Public Prosecutor at the local court.
In practice, if necessary, an adult who is not on these lists may be used, as long as they are not one of the investigators, court officials or clerks in charge of the case, the parties, or the witnesses.

The interpreter shall take an oath to assist justice in good faith and shall respect the confidentiality of the interpretation being provided.

As well as language differences, interpreters can also help deaf and mute people. To ensure equal and fair access to the trial, some interpreters learn sign language to be able to communicate with people with this disability. This work is all the more difficult because the interpreter must not only translate what the person with a disability wants to say, but also convey any emotion, hesitations, and misunderstandings. It is a tough job but it protects the right of access to justice for deaf and mute people.

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