About the use of interpreters

Immigrants and refugees in Iceland have the same right as Icelanders to receive and give information of various kinds. The authorities have the responsibility to make sure that information about the rights and duties are available to all. When dealing with individuals who don’t speak Icelandic it is preferred that the authorities make sure that the information is given verbally with the aid of an interpreter. This is particularly important with reference to article nr. 7, law nr. 37/1993 about the obligation of information from the authorities.

Iceland is a member of many international agreements which ensure that individuals who don’t speak Icelandic have the right to an interpreter in court cases and this has been made legal in Icelandic laws. An individual has the right to an interpreter at no cost in public cases, civil cases, paternity cases and when people are relieved of financial independence or when their independence is taken away from them.

In accordance with article 5 in law nr. 74/1997 governing the rights of patients, a person who doesn’t speak Icelandic has the right to an interpreter at no cost when he needs medical attention. The stipulation is though, that the person must have health insurance or has had legal residence in Iceland for 6 months or longer.

Even though the foreigner speaks some Icelandic and has lived here for some time, there can be a great need for an interpreter in complicated cases. For example,in interviews with the health care and social services, in kindergarten and elementary schools, court- and police cases, in dealings with  the union, tax authorities, banks, real estates and others. The right of the individual of foreign origin must be respected when choosing whether to use an interpreter or not.

When is it necessary to enlist the aid of an interpreter?

For information exchange to be possible between two individuals who don’t speak the same language it can be necessary to get the help of an interpreter.

The authorites need in many cases information from individuals and is obliged to give them the necessary information in a coherent and accessible manner. The use of an interpreter diminishes the risk of misunderstanding and in the long run, saves both time and money.

Relatives, friends and others involved should not be used instead of an independent and experienced interpreter. Children should never be used as interpreters.

The main goal of the international interpreter and translation service is to ensure equality between individuals who have other languages other than Icelandic as their native tongue and other inhabitants of this country. It also acts as an intermediary to supply interpreters for local authorities when the need arises to ensure that information is given in the correct manner and in accordance with the information distribution laws.