For laymen, translating appears to be a relatively simple process, consisting in taking words from one language (the source language) and restituting them in another language (the target language) with the necessary grammatical adjustments.
This does indeed covers the general idea of what a translation entails, though a professional translator’s qualifications cover more than simply the in-depth knowledge of two languages. When applied to the legal field, the work of a translator is considerably complicated as every country has its own legal system, with its own particularities. And the same word does not necessarily translate into the same reality.
A perfunctory glance at a sample of translation problems arising simply from the official institutions of two different countries will illustrate the difficulty pertaining to legal translations. Two different legal systems will have either:
1. the same institution, governed in the same way. This case is extremely rare, if not non-existent;
2. the same institution, governed differently (even if only slightly);
3. an institution that exists in one legal system but no longer exists in the other;
an institution that exists in one legal system but does not exist in the other.
poses virtually no problem, the legal translator only has to check the translation of the statute, ruling or other used in the target country and ensure that their content are a match.
can be illustrated by the term “House of Representatives”. Intuitively, it is natural to think that we know the meaning of the word. However, depending on the country, the practical implications vary widely. It might refer to a unicameral legislature or to the lower chamber of a bicameral legislature. Or, as some cases like in Israel for example, it has a radically different name, the Knesset, with it’s own specific rules. It is the legal translator’s responsibility to ensure that the translation of the term matches the reality on the ground in the target country.
is best exemplified by the differences between former and existing monarchies. In existing monarchies, terms like “Royal Edicts” are still part of the jargon. The translation of the legal implications of such a term in non-monarchic legal systems implies that the legal translator fully masters both legal systems.
. our last case, is perfectly illustrated by the differences between countries where the concept of separation between State and religion is the rule, exists partially or would be seen as heretical. This is particularly important in all matters relating to family law, such as marriage, divorce and inheritance, where religious courts are particularly important in countries where religious authorities play a pivotal role.
These are just some of the most obvious examples of the particularities specific to the profession of any specialized legal translator. This is why the use of automated translation for legal translation is unlikely to be happening soon.