The Workload of the Court of Justice of the European Union - European Union Committee Contents

CHAPTER 4: Translation

Does translation cause delays in the CJEU?

57.  One general issue that arose repeatedly in the evidence was that of delays caused by the CJEU's language regime. There are two aspects to this issue. The first concerns translation of Court documents into the CJEU's internal working language of French, and the second, the translation of its judgments into the 23 official languages of the EU.


58.  Most evidence submitted to the Committee on behalf of legal practitioners identified the need to translate all documents into the CJEU's working language as creating a significant bottleneck in the system. [90]

59.  Mr William Robinson, who worked for 29 years in the English Translation Division at the CJEU, also made the case for English and argued that "English has become a lingua franca in a way that French is no longer"; he believes that the Court "should use English as an internal working language alongside French".[91]

60.  Academic opinion painted a different, rather more pragmatic picture. For example, Professor Tridimas acknowledged the "heavy toll" that translation into French imposed on both the EU's resources and on the length of proceedings, but he accepted that "[g]iven the constraints of multilingualism, it is difficult to see how the burdens of translation can be lessened substantially".[92] Professor Arnull told the Committee that there "has to be a language that the court can conduct discussion in, in which all its members are conversant, and for historical reasons that language is French". Whilst there may well be an argument for changing from French to, for example, English, "the consequence of doing that would be similar; you would still have one language which some people spoke better than others".[93]

61.  The CCBE also acknowledged the limited impact reform would have in this area, saying that they were not "convinced that by having two internal working languages you necessarily create greater efficiencies".[94]

62.  It is our view that the popular opinion that delay is caused by translating documents into the CJEU's working language is misplaced. The CJEU has to have a working language and for historical reasons that language is French. Any increase in the number of working languages will, in the Committee's view, merely add another level of translation to the process, thus exacerbating any existing delays caused by translation.


63.  The Bar European Group identified this stage of the process as a "major problem" and stated that for "as long as there is a need for ... judgments to be translated into every EU official language, this bottleneck is unlikely to ease".[95] As a solution, they argued that the "EU should select four or five official languages into which every document should be translated and then require translation into a different language only where the origin or interest in the case demanded it".[96]

64.  Professor Arnull disagreed: "it is not clear that we could reduce the number of languages at least at the stages of translating the Advocate General's opinions and the judgments ... [t]here is at least a core of documents that will have to be available in all languages". He concluded that "one could spend an enormous amount of energy trying to get the language regime changed, with very little to show for it".[97]

65.  From the perspective of the CJ, Sir Konrad Schiemann said that it would be possible to abandon translation into all 23 official languages but that this would be extremely sensitive politically. He argued that the essence of EU law was that it was also national law and it was understandable that people wanted it translated into their own national languages.[98]

66.  The Registrar of the CJ said that in his view translation was not causing a bottleneck. It was an obligation to translate into the EU's official languages and this was not currently a problem. He did say, however, that this could become a problem if the Court's workload increased and that the Court needed additional resources but had struggled to receive them. He pointed to a recent attempt by the Court to employ one extra English lawyer-linguist, which had met with resistance from both the Council and the European Parliament.

67.  Judge Nicholas Forwood acknowledged that in the GC cases did take longer as a result of translation, but he stressed that it was a necessary part of the process. He argued that in the GC translation was less of a delaying factor than many people supposed as translation took up on average only 3.4 months of a case lasting 32 months. By contrast, as CST judgments have no effect in the Member States, they do not need to be translated into all 23 languages, but the President of the CST feared that this made access to the CST's case law problematic.

68.  Access to the CJ's case law, either by Member States' authorities or their citizens, must remain the key. The law as decided by the CJ applies equally throughout the Member States, and it has to be available in a language that all the citizens of the Member States can understand. This is important for the Court's legitimacy.

69.  In the cases of the GC and the CST it seems to the Committee that translation levels are already at the minimum level required to satisfy the twin pressures of speed and accessibility.

70.  Translation remains an expensive but necessary service for an institution operating in a multilingual and transnational environment. It is, as AG Sharpston phrased it, "a simple fact of life".[99] If further enlargement of the EU takes place these costs will inevitably rise.

90   (WE 8) at paragraph 9; (WE 7) at paragraph 6; (WE 1) at paragraphs 24-26. Back

91   (WE 14) at paragraphs 2 and 5. Back

92   (WE 11) at paragraph 31. Back

93   Q 15. Back

94   Q 51. Back

95   (WE 12) at paragraphs 6 and 20. Back

96   (WE 12) at paragraph 21. Back

97   Q 17. Back

98   Appendix 4 at page 51. Back

99   See AG Sharpston's evidence at paragraph 1.6 in Appendix 5. Back

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