This is a follow-up to the article on certified translations

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Fact and fable about sworn translations – the sequel

To clarify this a bit more – because not everyone seems to realize this –
Not all law is criminal law.
There are fields of law covering practically all aspects of our lives. Buying a house, hiring a coach, changing a zoning plan in order to make building plans possible, receiving welfare because you’re sick or unemployed…..

In all those situations, you should really hire a translator who’s well up in the law. You could even say that generally trained, sworn translators – of whom you only know that they’ve completed a higher education in translation – might not be of much use to you in these particular situations.
Because believe it or not, having completed a higher education in translation is in fact the only requirement for enrollment in the Dutch Register of translators and for being sworn in at a Dutch court.

And about that Register: you can also have a specialism recorded in it. That sounds promising. Maybe this can offer a guarantee that deepening of knowledge has taken place and that the translator has become an authority in a certain field. Unfortunately, this can be a bit deceiving, I think. Although the only existing specialism is presented as being a specialism in law – and is often perceived as such – it actually only concerns a specialism in criminal law; “Translator in criminal cases”, it’s called.

There is no doubt about the fact that it is very important and even indispensable for a translator in criminal proceedings to know about criminal law and law of criminal procedure. I’m not going to go into details here about the requirements for registration as a criminal law translation specialist – I’ll leave that for another time.
But let me just say that even lawyers having completed four years in university to get their law degree need a lot of extra years of training before they’re allowed and able to work in criminal law.

So, I dare to suggest that even if a translator is registered in the Register and has the criminal proceedings specialism recorded – that even then you don’t have any certainty that this person has sufficient knowledge of criminal law needed for your case.

But even apart from that and more to the point: in my view entry in the Register and the specialism are deceiving, because such a label might give off the impression of a translator really having much more experience in the law or knowing a lot about law in general. And of course, that could all be true in an individual case.

But it could equally not be. Because the Register doesn’t require that. And the specialism only concerns criminal proceedings. And on top of that, the Register and the specialism don’t tell you anything about the quality of the translators who aren’t in the Register and who are perhaps better fitted to meet the specific wishes and needs of the client. In all honesty, the Bureau that deals with the registrations does mention that.

So, let me sum up the most important things to remember when hiring a translator for a legal document: :
a) don’t just unthinkingly assume that a legal translator should be registered in the register;
b) don’t just unthinkingly assume a translator who’s registered is simply a better translator than one who’s not;
c) so basically, you always have to pay attention what a specific translator has to offer in terms of background, experience and training.

Anyhow. For some documents, you certainly need a sworn translator: such as a document that will serve as evidence in criminal proceedings, but also a document that will be used in a foreign court case. Like an official document on marriage or adoption or a university degree certificate.

But for all the other legal documents, you should look for someone who has expertise on the subject that you’re dealing with. Because legal translation can’t be generalised. There just are too many differences between all the legal fields.

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Door Liselot Puiman

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