Translation of legal letters

Dear Editor

I notice in the Algarve Resident issue of July 22, the eye doctor who allegedly blinded patients has insisted that he is written to in Dutch and this has caused some delay but he has got his way.

Can you please advise the law both Portuguese and European Union: If a legal entity, say a court or a lawyer, sends a letter to your home which could have severe repercussions if ignored, has that letter got to be in a language the recipient can understand?

Graham Cockroft, By email

Editor’s note: As this is not an area I feel comfortable commenting on, I asked lawyer Dr Eduardo Serra Jorge, from Eduardo Serra Jorge & Maria José Garcia Sociedade de Advogados, to reply. He said: “According to Article 6th, number 3, point a) of the European Convention on Human Rights, everyone charged with a criminal offence has the right to be informed promptly, in a language which he/she understands and of the nature and cause of the accusation against him/her in detail.

Actually, this general European principle may be found on the Portuguese Criminal Procedure Code (PCPC), being that all personal notifications to a foreign defendant have to mandatorily be translated into his/her own language.

In what concerns the judicial and extrajudicial summons or notifications on civil or commercial issues, there isn’t any obligation for Member States to have them translated into a language understandable by the receiver, but on criminal issues yes.

Therefore, if the City Council or Tax Office addresses a notification to a foreign citizen living in Portugal, those entities aren’t obliged to previously translate the content of that notification.

It is also interesting to note that judicial and extrajudicial summons or notifications on civil or commercial matters sent from one Member State to persons residing in another can be directly posted on the national official language of the sender, as it is ruled under the Council Regulation (EC) N.º 1348/2000, of May 29 2000, on the service in the Member States of judicial and extrajudicial documents in civil or commercial matters. But on criminal issues it is mandatory that the communication or notification is issued also in the language of the receiver.

Regarding letters lawyers usually send in order to achieve an extrajudicial solution for a client’s case, there is also no obligation to proceed with its translation to a language understood by the receiver – this is even advisable to get a faster reaction from them.