It is surprising that it bears repeating time and time again that legal document translation should be left to professional legal translators. Too many individuals, businesses and organisations still think that they can get away with cutting corners on the expense of professional translation. Partly this is because the people who are ordering the translation do not know just how bad an unprofessional translation can be. It’s not just how bad it is or unintellible it might be to the reader, but it can have legal consequences, too.
The rise of ‘instant’ translation tools like ‘Google Translate’ are also partly to blame. To be honest, these are never advertised as credible tools for important legal translation but their ease of use and cheapness can be deceptive. Just upload a legal document and hit the ‘translate’ button and you get the translated version. It looks authentic, but how authentic is it? Not authentic or accurate enough to be used in court. Not authentic or accurate enough to convince jurors. Not accurate enough to be used to support an application for a visa or citizenship. Not accurate enough to file an application for a patent or business contract.
Legal documents are almost always filled with specific legal terminology. This is often very contextual, so a specific term may have an entirely different meaning in a non-legal context. This is enough to confuse an automated translation tool or app. It might also confuse a human translator if he or she is not trained in legal translation.
If the temptation for using a free, or cheap automated translation tool is substituted for the help from a bilingual colleague or the assistance from a translator who has no legal background, the inaccuracies can be almost as evident.
Legal document translation does need to be performed by translators who are not only fluent in the languages to be translated, the source language and the target language, but must have a good grounding in the legal world as well. Many good legal translators have often worked as lawyers or legal assistants in the past and have chosen a new career, i.e. as translators, for some reason. Some legal translators are bilingual law students who are looking to supplement their income to pay for their law course.
Note that in some countries, translated legal documents may have no validity unless they are certified by a professional legal translator. Rules vary from one country to another. In Australia, for example, most legal translation that is used for the courts or for government use must be translated by translators who are accredited by the National Accreditation Authority of Translators and Interpreters.