The applicant, Mr. Hermi, was a Tunisian national serving a prison sentence in Italy. An appeal hearing took place to which he was invited to appear by notice in Italian. Mr. Hermi did not appear before the court.
Mr. Hermi complained that he had been unable to participate in the hearing because he did not understand the language of the notice in violation of his right to fair trial.
Any person 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”. This provision does not specify that the relevant information should be given in writing or translated in written form for a foreign defendant, but points to the need for special attention to be paid to the notification of the “accusation” to the defendant.
The Court observed that an indictment plays a crucial role in the criminal process, in that it is from the moment of its service that the defendant is formally put on notice of the factual and legal basis of the charges against him. A defendant not familiar with the language used by the court may be at a practical disadvantage if the indictment is not translated into a language which he understands. Therefore an accused who cannot understand the language used in court has the right to the free assistance of an interpreter for the translation or interpretation of all those documents in the proceedings instituted against him which it is necessary for him to understand in order to have the benefit of a fair trial.
In the particular case, however, the Court considered that the applicant had sufficient command of Italian to grasp the meaning of the notice informing him of the date of the appeal court hearing, as he himself admitted that he speaks Italian and could understand the charges brought against him in the court of first instance. Thus the Court found no violation of Mr. Hermi’s right to fair trial in the fact that the notice of the hearing was served to him in Italian.