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Supreme Court of Denmark

No requirement for indictment/notice of appeal to be translated to Greenlandic – the Defendants’ native language 

Case no. 251/2008 and case no. 251/2008
Judgment 4 February 2009

The Prosecution




 The Prosecution



 The High Court of Greenland's orders in two criminal cases were rescinded and the cases remitted to be heard on their merits as there was no requirement that the indictment/notice of appeal had to be translated into Greenlandic which was the Defendants’ native language.

 The native language of both T1 and T2 was Greenlandic. Sections of the indictment served on T1 were only provided in Danish. The notice of appeal served on T2 was only written in Danish. Under S. 9(1) and (2) of the Greenland Home Rule Act, Greenlandic is the principal language; however, both Greenlandic and Danish may be used for official purposes. Pursuant to Chapter 2, S. 1(1) and (2) of the Administration of Justice Act for Greenland, the language of the courts in Greenland is both Greenlandic and Danish, but documents should be translated if, for example, one of the parties does not understand the language used.

The main issue before the Supreme Court was whether T1 and T2 had been entitled to claim that all of the written indictment/notice of appeal should be translated into Greenlandic.

 The Supreme Court declared that neither the applicable Greenlandic rules nor the Human Rights Convention contains a requirement that an indictment must be translated into the defendant’s native language. According to Article 6(3)(a) of the European Human Rights Convention, everyone charged with a criminal offence has the right to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him. And in Article 6(3)(e) it is laid down that he has the right to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court. According to the case law of the Human Court of Human Rights, it is particularly important that a defendant understands the purport of the charges brought against him, and that a country’s authorities are obliged to ensure that the defendant has the required language skills to understand the charges, cf. Judgment of 19 December 1989 in Brozicek v. Italy, Judgment of 19 December 1989 in Kamasinski v. Austria and Judgment of 18 October 2006 in Hermi v. Italy. It appears from the latter judgment that Article 6 does not necessarily require a written translation in the cases where a translation is required.

 The Supreme Court based its decision on the fact that T1 had also understood the part of the indictment that was only in Danish, and that the notice of appeal had been explained to T2 in Greenlandic when it was served.

 Against this background, the Supreme Court remitted both cases to be heard on their merits.


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