Why Standardization (Or Lack of It) Is Important in Legal Translations

alison-williams.jpg  Content writer specialized in writing blog posts and web pages.

  WWS contributor


While businesses often prepare various legal documents for different jurisdictions, a lack of universal standardization in translation poses difficulties.


Businesses and organizations of all sizes prepare various legal documents to operated legally and comply with regulatory requirements. And sometimes it’s necessary to translate some of those legal documents to fit different jurisdictions and situations.

A translator of a legal text such as those should be able to understand the legal message in the text and translate it correctly into another language.

There are several parts to the translation of legal documents. One of these is the language itself, and the second is the judicial or legal setting in which the language is used. So, the translation spans several disciplines all at once.

The difficulties arise in translation when international law needs to be considered and the translation is destined for different countries. Often problems occur with mistranslations of legal concepts, which if serious may cause international disputes could arise.

To minimize the chance of an international dispute, it would help if there were standard forms for legal concepts. It is not enough to use multilingual or bilingual dictionaries only.

Up until now, however, legal concepts have been developed over time to fit in with the culture and ideology of the given country. It is difficult to perform a legal translation between countries that do not share the same values about the law.

To perform legal translations between countries, the legal translator needs to possess great knowledge of both legal systems and understand how best to translate concepts in the legal documents, considering the way different legal systems treat the same concepts.


Standardized Forms of Legal Concepts Would Help


So far, the legal profession has not come up with a universal language like mathematics or physics. One clear example is seen in English law with the word ‘theft.’

The word ‘theft’ is defined and described as outlined by the Theft Act 1968, section one, which states that theft is the appropriation of property which belongs to somebody else with the intent to keep the property permanently.

On the other hand, German law states that 'Diebstahl' or ‘theft’ is as defined in par. 242 of the (West) German Criminal Code, and is when someone intentionally removes any property belonging to somebody else which is unlawful.

It is much easier to perform a legal translation of a treaty because the concept has been widely studied and explored by numerous international organizations like the U.N., so that even in translations standardization has been made more possible.

In the end, treaties have developed an international code not related to any one legal system. This makes it much easier for translators to perform an accurate legal translation. If this were the case in all sectors, it would really improve the legal translation process tremendously and drive businesses forward in a globalized world.



Role of Legal Translations in Today’s Globalized World


As people network and link up more and more with economies across the globe, there is an increasing need for legal translations. But this need is linked to the cultures of the economies in question and their differences in legal systems.

In some countries, there is a clear distinction between religious and secular law, while in other countries they are intertwined.

One recent example can be found in Saudi Arabia where Islam basically dominates the legal system, but due to its involvement in international business it brought in secular codes. Similarly, Morocco has both Islamic and French law to contend with.

Because of the vast diversity of languages and legal systems in the world, standardization of the various legal terms and concepts is just a dream at the moment. Standardization has not yet become a reality across the board.


Solution for a Lack of Legal Concepts Standardization


The only real solution for a lack of standardization of legal concepts across jurisdictions, at least for now, is to get all legal translations done by human translators who have a thorough knowledge of the laws and legal systems of given jurisdictions and targeted languages.

Mistakes, misinterpretation, and ambiguity – whether small or big – are less likely to happen in a legal translation when done by a team of knowledgeable human translators.

Remember, huge financial and legal complications could arise when there is just one small error made in a legal translation, and just a small semantic or lexical error could even make a legal document no longer legal.

So, until a more standardized form of legal language has been formulated, the most accurate legal translations will most likely only come from human legal translators.

Alison Williams is a content writer specialized in writing blog posts and web pages for a variety of clients, including those in the legal and translation. She has an MA in Applied Linguistics and has built up the ability as a highly skilled writer to communicate with a variety of audiences and in an array of styles and formats.