The right to an interpreter — A guarantee of legal certainty and equal access to public services in Sweden?

Kristina Gustafsson, Eva Norström, Linnéa Åberg


In Sweden, the Administrative Procedure Act regulates authorities’ obligation to use interpreters if needed in contact with persons who do not speak Swedish, with impaired hearing, sight, or speech. Hiring an interpreter is stated as a guarantee of transparency, participation, and legal certainty. The article aims to investigate these language duties and rights from the perspective of non-Swedish speaking clients. Guiding theoretical concepts are formal and substantive legal certainty as a primary condition protecting the client as a rights holder. Three main themes were found in an analysis of migrants’ narratives about interpreting experiences: mistrust in interpreting services, self-regulated minimization of language rights, and absence of professional interpreting and translation services. These factors may be compounded and lead to situations in which clients decline the use of interpreting services. Based on the clause “if needed” in the law, it might be legitimate to acknowledge such wishes and skip interpreting services. Yet, this means that public services undermine the client’s position as a rights holder, formal and legal certainty, as well as their own possibilities to fulfill their duties.


Formal legal certainty, public service interpreting, right holder, substantive legal certainty, public service users

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