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In which cases should your translation be a certified translation?

hint: it’s not as often as you’d think!

Say you want to translate (or have translated) a legal document. You’ve heard about sworn translations and that you need one of those if you have a legal text of any kind. Or was it the translator who should be sworn? And the translation certified? But, more to the point, when is it necessary? In case of all official documents? In case of all legal documents? Or… how does this work exactly? And is a sworn translator really an expert on (all fields of) law?

More often than not, the costs for a certified translation are higher and so you’re left wondering if you should really spend that money. Since 1 January 2009, the Sworn Interpreters and Translators Act is in force in the Netherlands. This law describes in which cases a certified translation (that’s a translation by a sworn translator) is mandatory. The most important regulations concern the so called acquisition obligation: if the subject matter is criminal law or immigration law, government agencies that are connected with police or justice are obligated to hire a sworn translator.

That means:
1) that if the subject matter isn’t criminal or immigration law, it is not necessary to hire a sworn translator, and
2) as long as no criminal judges, police, public prosecutors or public servants at the Immigration and Naturalisation Service are involved, there is also no need to hire a sworn translator.

About that first point. The intention of the Act was to implement an EU directive into the Dutch legal system. That directive is called: the Directive on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings. The Dutch Act, however, is called: the Sworn Interpreters and Translators Act. Comparing those two names, it seems as though the EU only refers to criminal law, while in the Netherlands a more generalised obligation is in use for working with sworn translators. This is might be part of the reason why people are confused about this, I think.

Because only while reading the act, it turns out that these Dutch rules only apply to criminal and immigration law situations, so there’s not a general obligation to work with sworn translators. And how about the second point? Whenever a document will be used as evidence in a criminal case, it will have to be certified by a sworn translator.

But it’s a different thing altogether in case of, for example, civil law proceedings. In such proceedings there may also be a text you want to use as evidence, such as a contract in a civil case against a salesperson of a malfunctioning product.

There is no rule that obligates you to have this document certified and the judge will equally take into account your translations by a professional translator. It is up to you to see whether you trust a particular translator to transfer the message of the original text.

But on the other hand it may concern a document that, for now anyway, has nothing at all to do with a court case. For example if you’re doing business abroad. Contracts might be put before you in another language. Or you choose to make a good impression (and radiate professionalism) with your own contracts and other business communication towards your business clients. No double Dutch or gibberish, but a well-structured text that doesn’t cause confusion because the wrong terminology is used.

In these situations, the main thing for the translator is to have an insight in the part of law that you’re working in, and preferably also have a good understanding of the two legal systems involved (i.e. Dutch law and, for example, British law). So, the more background and experience, the better.


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Door Liselot Puiman

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