Czech Ministry of the Interior Seeks to Replace Interpreters with a Vaguely Defined “Device”

Czech Ministry of the Interior has dealt a blow to the established system of independent licensed interpreters by introducing “automated interpreting” in the new draft immigration bill. The proposal gives the Ministry of the Interior power to replace an official interpreter in immigration proceedings with a “technical device”. The device must provide real-time automatic interpreting from and to the Czech language, and accuracy and speed of interpreting must be “comparable” to that of a licensed official interpreter. The Ministry of the Interior itself will decide whether the device delivers “comparable” quality. No further details are provided in the draft bill, and the law refers to future bylaws for details. In the Czech legislative process, this means that the details will be decided by the Ministry of the Interior without public scrutiny in Parliament.

Foreign nationals who are recipients of such automated interpreting may contest accuracy of automated interpreting, and the right to contest is expressly limited; they must lodge any complaints before the interpreted procedure is completed.

This proposal bypasses the existing system of official interpreters who are licensed by the Ministry of Justice under Czech Act No. 354/2019 Sb., the Official Interpreters and Official Translators Act. Official interpreters are required to meet qualification requirements, have statutory duties of confidentiality and due care, and may be facing sanctions under administrative and criminal law for serious breaches of their professional duties.

The draft bill was reviewed by the Committee for Human Rights and Modern Technologies of the Council for Human Rights, which serves as an advisory body to Czech government. The Committee for Human Rights pointed out that available technology today is unable to ensure the level of accuracy of interpreting which is necessary to protect procedural rights of foreign nationals and recommended to remove the provisions on automated interpreting from the draft bill.

Czech Association of Interpreters and Translators has voiced its concerns about the draft bill and offered to share its expertise with the Ministry of the Interior to initiate a professional dialogue to determine the best way to introduce technologies in official translation and interpreting in a way that would preserve the underlying principles of human rights, rule of law and professional rules of conduct.

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