Category: Legal Translation

In the world of legal translation, getting the translation right is vital. Poor quality translation can be costly for the parties involved as a recent case from India indicates, when the court imposed a fine after one of the parties filed a text packed with poor grammar, incorrect sentence construction, wrong choices of words and inappropriate punctuation.

NDTV reported a few weeks ago that the Indian Supreme Court imposed a fine for a poor quality translation of a judicial order from a lower court on the grounds that it was ungrammatical and difficult to comprehend. The report indicates that the judges had to spend considerable time attempting to figure out the intended meaning of the court order because of the grammatical errors in the translation. It appears that the lawyer in the case failed to check over this specific legal translation before submitting it to the court and was reprimanded by the court for failing to do so.

The moral of the story: commission people skilled in legal translation to do the translation for you, and ensure your documentation is proofread by someone else, or at the very least reviewed by you before using it.



“The fuzziness of the category of legal translation derives from the fuzziness of the category of legal language. Legal translation is unquestionably a type of specialised translation and, as demonstrated by Asensio, is notoriously difficult to define through traditional criteria applied to specialised translation … As to the degree of specialisation, legal translation is not only a communication between experts but also may be addressed to citizens (e.g. judgments, legislation). In respect of the subject matter, it should be treated as a category with fuzzy boundaries, as law regulates various fields and areas of life and the ‘legal frame of activity’ may sometimes be decisive in classifying a text as legal translation.”

Lucja Biel, Lost in the Eurofog: The textual fit of translated law, Peter Lang Editions (2014), p. 50-51

“Why is legal language so complicated? Legislative drafters and linguists compare notes”

Dealing with legal language all day long, legal translators are definitely aware that it is complicated stuff. This workshop, to be held in London by the Institute of Modern Languages Research at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies on 29.6.2016, takes a look at how the viewpoint of the linguist can be co-opted to help legislative drafters produce better quality texts (and hopefully make legal translation an easier process too).


More information:

Not translating legal content can be costly

Legal translation is becoming increasingly important in a globalised economy,

Legal translation: not translating legal content can be costly

A recent German court ruling highlights the importance of legal translation in an increasingly globalised market. Social media apps have a massive user base. App developers understand the importance of localising their content for the markets they operate in, but terms and conditions of use, privacy policies and other legal content may not necessarily be translated into the local language, as this case indicates.

The language industry blog Slator reported the other day that WhatsApp faces a potential € 250,000 fine for failing to translate the applications’ terms and conditions of use from English into German so local users could comprehend them.

Proceedings were brought before Berlin’s Kammergericht court by a local consumer organisation (VZBZ) because key terms and conditions of use of the application and the privacy policy had not been translated into German and had been left in English.

While WhatsApp content is available in German, the consumer organisation which launched the case complained that the terms and conditions contained “technical legal language”, meaning it was mostly incomprehensible to German users of the app.

Berlin’s Kammergericht court acknowledged that many Germans are capable of getting by in everyday English but that legal English is not something they are familiar with. The VZBV’s press release on the ruling states that “The court noted that no customer should have to face ‘an extensive, complex set of rules with a very large number of clauses’ in a foreign language,” thereby highlighting the importance of translating key legal terms when localising apps for other markets.

VZBZ’s press release also points out that “in the absence of a German translation, all the clauses lack transparency and are therefore legally void”.

The cost of legal translations is often minimal compared to the costs that can be payable in the event of litigation or administrative proceedings. Slator points out that WhatsApp would have paid around € 1,500 to get the documentation translated before publishing the content, but the cost could now be a € 250,000 administrative fine.

“From a legal point of view, adding or subtracting information in legal translation is a high-risk procedure, because of the potential change of legal meaning and/or effect of the target text, and therefore it is reasonable to assume that explicitation and implicitation will be a relatively rare phenomenon in legal translation”

Hjort-Pedersen, M. & Faber, D. (2010), “Explicitation and implicitation in legal translation – A process study of trainee translators” Meta: Translators’ Journal 55(2), 237-250 at 238

The Mau Mau case involving compensation for 44,000 Kenyans tortured in the 1950s while the country was under colonial rule looks like it could be interesting from a legal translation viewpoint.Continue Reading..

“Not only does [legal translation] require basic knowledge of the respective legal systems, familiarity with the relevant terminology and competence in the target language’s specific legal style of writing, but also an extensive knowledge of the respective legal topic in both source and target language.”

Source: Bhatia/Candlin & Allori 2008:17

“Legal texts are translated in vaster quantities than books and in more varied directions. Dreary as it may seem to all but legal eagles, the translation of law is a prerequisite for the construction and maintenance of a global society. Without it, business and diplomacy would come to a stop. But there’s something important to learn from it. Law is the very model of an untranslatable text, because the language of the law is self-enclosed, and refers to nothing outside of itself. In practice however, laws do get translated, because they must.”


David Bellos, Is that a fish in your ear? Translation and the meaning of everything, p. 224

In the field of legal translation, “the challenge is to show the ‘courage of creativity’ within the restraints of the law. This demonstrates the need for a flexible methodology offering creative techniques to translate legal texts and ultimately improve the quality of legal translations. In the age of increasing employment of computer programs also in the legal translation process, the creativity debate is a unique incentive to further strengthen a transdisciplinary approach to the translation task and to develop creative strategies to adequately meet the many and difficult problems arising in legal translation. Concretising the novel understanding of creative freedom in translating legal texts will make the modern legal translator increasingly aware of his creative potential and show him how to make the most of his opportunities to be creative.”


Source: S. Pommer, No Creativity in legal translation? Babel 54/2008, 355-368, 367,

A ‘Forum on Quality in Legal Translation’ is being organised on 6 June 2016 by the Institute of Applied Linguistics, University of Warsaw and the DGT Field Office in Poland as part of the #TranslatingEurope project and is one of a series of Translating Europe Workshops taking place in all EU Member States. The forum will look at quality in legal translation from three perspectives: the academic, market and training perspectives, with panels moderated by experts in the field of legal translation.

The draft programme is available at:


The Institute of Applied Linguistics, University of Warsaw

The DGT Field Office in Poland

Keynote speakers:

Prof. Fernando Prieto Ramos, University of Geneva

Prof. Hendrik Kockaert, KU Leuven.

Quality in Legal Translation

The Academic Perspective moderated by Dr Anna Jopek-Bosiacka

The Market Perspective moderated by Dr Agnieszka Biernacka

The Training Perspective moderated by Dr hab. Łucja Biel




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