Why Are Legal Translations Important?

By | May 11, 2017

Legal translation is a task that requires a lot of expertise and familiarity with linguistic conventions that apply to laws and legal cases.

Translations consist of taking a document in one language and switching it to another language whilst maintaining the same meaning. Legal translations deal with legal issues and terms. This field involves translating statutes, contracts, patents and any type of legal documentation. These documents are often used in legal proceedings where the initial original meaning must be maintained even after the translation.

Legal terminology is very complex and can vary from one country to another. Due to the fact that not every country has the same legal system, in some cases legal concepts do not have an equivalent in the target language. Codes and laws have been created to suit a particular country or culture and when the legal term does not have an equivalent in the target language, the translator needs to “recreate” the concept and the whole idea attached to the legal expression. “Transcreation” is a re-interpretation of the original concept to suit the audience of the target language in a particular time. It is very difficult to find equivalence between two terms if both legal languages refer to different legal systems.

Why Are Legal Translations Important?

Laws and codes seek to establish clearly defined rights and duties for certain individuals. The purpose of legal translation is to look for linguistic and juridical similarities between legal texts that belong to different legal systems. There are some cases where crimes might have similar meanings in two systems but are not identical; imply different connotations which lead to different sentences. The legal translator should be aware of intention of the original legal text and the interpretation (or interpretations) that has been attached to that text. The use of precedent is typical of Anglo-American common-law tradition that is built on the doctrine of stare decisis. (stand by decided matters)

Errors in legal translation could be fatal due to the effects that a legal misjudgment could have in the life and rights of individuals. It could also affect national security, diplomatic relations and lead to lawsuits.

To avoid mistakes, legal translators should be guided by standards of linguistic, social and cultural equivalence between the language used in the source text to and the target language. According to the expert on Comparative Law, Gerard-René de Groot, the difficulty of legal translations depend more on structural differences between legal systems rather than on linguistically differences.

Legal Translators

To deliver accurate translations, legal translators need to understand the different law systems as well as specific areas within law such as Criminal Law, Commercial Law, Property Law, etc. They also need to be competent in legal writing and have an in-depth knowledge of legal terminology. It is critical to assign legal translations to professionals that have the knowledge and experience to deal with them. It is also indispensable to have a deep understanding of Comparative Law system which helps to comprehend basic legal terms and structures in an international context.

What is Comparative Law?

It is the study of the diverse legal systems around the world and the differences and similarities between them. Comparative Law provides the foundation to create bilingual dictionaries that try to find equivalence among the elements of the source and the target legal texts.
Legal translators have a hard job because many legal concepts were originated within a particular social and political framework and may have no counterpart in other legal system. They must look for juridical and linguistic equivalence between the terms in order to find the pragmatic and functional equivalence in the concepts.

Comparative law methods help to create a reinterpretation of incompatible legal terms and to do so technical and pragmatist aspects of legal language should be taken into account. The equation is not that simple because some specialists prioritize the technical aspects of legal translation while other put emphasis on the connotative aspects of legal language. The convergence of these two approaches can facilitate the translation of legal texts.