What are Legal Translations?

Legal translations are much like any other translation in as much as, they start with a source language and require changing into a target language. However, there the similarities end.

Legal translations are a far more complex process, due primarily to the fact that law is culture dependant and varies based upon location.

The legal systems within each country uses terms and laws which differ and are based around culture, religion and historic circumstance, meaning that a law in the source language may vary widely from one in the target language.

For instance, in some countries there is distinct difference between secular and religious law, while in other places these laws intermingle and aren’t so clearly defined. Arab countries such as the UAE or Saudi Arabia have a legal system based upon Islam, the principal religion of both regions, however, in other Arab countries, where there has been more Christian influence, such as Morocco, the system varies.


Protocols for Legal Translations

Every country has its own specific protocols and regulations for legal translations and legal translators.

A legal translation is required in order to use the official language of a particular jurisdiction and can cover a wide variety of text such as, official documents, identity documents, court transcripts or statements, patents, immigration documents, wills or probate, and financial documents.

In most countries there are very specific guidelines concerning those who are authorised to perform legal translations. For instance, in Dubai, the Government of Dubai Legal Affairs Department deals with licensing advocacy and legal consultancy firms and supervises their practice, in addition to issuing the necessary rules, bylaws and resolutions.

Translation of legal documents must be completed by a specialist translator with expert knowledge of the law system in both the source, and target language in order to avoid inaccuracies, mistranslations and errors which may be costly to those it concerns both in terms of money and legal repercussions.

In the UK however, the rules governing legal translations are more relaxed. Here many Language Service Providers (LSPs) offer legal translations and the associated certificate of accuracy, so be sure to check your chosen LSP can offer a quality translation and that it is acceptable by the target country and their legal requirements.


The Complexity of Legal Translation

Legal translations require a large degree of accuracy – there is no room for error, ambiguity or misinterpretation, as there can be far-reaching complications from one small error.

There is also a very unique terminology involved with legal translations which means that translators must be able to transpose the legal, cultural, and linguistic properties from one country to another. The translator requires an expert knowledge of both legal systems, cultures, and languages in order to give a flawless translation that fits within the specific jurisdiction.

Legal translations require correct use of tone and formality. Most legal systems have their own standards for legal texts which require a stricter and more structured sentence formulation than would be used in every-day speech.

Unless a translator is also legally trained they often struggle with the correct approach for legal documents and translations.


The Human Touch for Legal Translations

As discussed, legal translations require a high degree of accuracy which is beyond most machine translation services, therefore, use of a human translator is necessary.

Direct translations are inadvisable for legal translations due to the changeable nature of laws within each jurisdiction, which means specialist human translators are required.

Legal terms and expressions don’t always have an equivalent in the target language so a translator must find the conceptual equivalent, and on occasion, retain extracts from the source document in order to ensure parity.

Reasoning capabilities, intelligence, expert knowledge, technical ability, and linguistic skill are required in large quantities by legal translators – machines just can’t compete with this level of accuracy or strictness.

Professional legal translations take time and money to produce, but working with someone who is underqualified for the task can cause long term issues and have legal implications which are not easily undone.


If you require advice regarding legal translations or legal services, please contact us at Creative Word where we offer the following:

Legal Translations
Certified Translations
Contract Translations
Ministry of Justice (MOJ) certified translations
Court Interpreters
Transcriptions – court and arbitration hearings
CLPD Training
Cultural Awareness Training

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