Following her report on the Oxford Unitary (EU) Patent Conference, I am most grateful to welcome back to the blog Helen Smith, who attended the Horizon Justice Française 5 conference organized by the SFT Syndicat national des traducteurs professionnels, held in Bordeaux from 24 to 25 October 2013, and is going to give us an overview of what happened there.
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I recently had the pleasure of attending the fifth Horizon Justice Française conference, which this year took place in Bordeaux, at the pôle juridique et judiciaire in the centre of the court district. Presentations were made over two days and covered a wide variety of issues affecting legal translators and interpreters in France. These ranged from the structure of the French court system, with which interpreters and translators must be familiar, to the transposition of Directive 2010/64/EU into national law, which grants a right to a translator and/or interpreter in criminal proceedings.
The full agenda can be accessed here, including a synopsis of the presentations and details of the speakers, however the conference’s focus was the role of the “expert traducteur et interprète” (expert translator and interpreter) in the French judicial system.
Although this conference dealt specifically with the current situation in France, I personally consider its themes pretty universal. The likelihood that the languages services professions will become increasingly regulated in future, coupled with the demand for translators and interpreters to have fields of specialisation, seek formal accreditation from professional bodies and undertake regular CPD activities, so that they can be identified as belonging to the highest echelons of their profession, are arguments which we have been hearing for some time now.
What skills are necessary to become an ‘expert’?
Candidates wishing to become expert translators and interpreters in the French system must make a formal application for assessment to a single, regional cour d’appel. However, in my opinion, the standards they must meet are equally applicable to translators and interpreters dealing with legal translation work in any jurisdiction.
Expert translators and interpreters are expected to be the finest professionals in their field. They must understand legal procedures and concepts and be able to communicate equally well in their source and target languages, including having the ability to transpose concepts from one legal system into the other. They are therefore expected to have in-depth knowledge of both legal systems. Expert translators and interpreters must also conduct research and maintain a level of excellence. This includes providing a record of training/CPD which they have undertaken each year.
Expert translators and interpreters must collaborate with the judicial system and be independent and morally upstanding. In France this involves swearing an oath before the court to follow the relevant regulations, but it also includes the requirement for translators and interpreters to be punctual and diligent professionals, which is obviously a basic necessity for any translation or interpreting job. Independence and impartiality is clearly also key in the legal translation and interpreting, as any bias might have an effect upon the outcome of a case.
Clearly excellence is expected, not least because an incorrectly translated document relied upon by a court, or not having the best interpretation possible can, in the conference speakers’ experience, cause problems and possibly lead to a retrial. For this reason, legal translators and interpreters were advised to ask questions wherever it was appropriate, whether during a break in proceedings in the case of an interpreter, or in footnotes to documents which might be used in a judge’s understanding of a matter, in the case of a translator.
Although the speakers stated that expert translators and interpreters are expected to provide the same level of service and authority as, for example, a medical expert instructed by a party to a case, many of the 100+ translators and interpreters present at the conference clearly felt that they do not yet have the same level of respect, and certainly do not command the same fees, as court experts in other fields. Hopefully the trend towards professional regulation and accreditation will influence this for the better in the long-term.
Legal translation resources
The following useful resources were discussed at the conference. It is by no means exhaustive, so if you have any more to add, or any hints and tips for legal translation and interpreting, I’d love to hear about them.
Vade-mecum de l’expert traducteur et interprete
- This practical guide to good practice for translators and interpreters working in the French judicial system (only available in French so far as I’m aware) was presented at the conference. It contains some really valuable information on French law, legal procedure and court structure as well as the nuts and bolts of translators’ and interpreters’ roles in the process. It’s a slim, user friendly manual which I’m currently chomping through at a rate of knots.
Learning the Law
- If you’re looking for an introduction to English law and the English legal system, I highly recommend this book written in 1945 by Glanville Williams and now in its 15th edition. It’s the first thing I read as a law student and in my opinion provides a fantastic starting point for understanding what are sometimes befuddling practices and terminology.
Legislation in multiple languages
- Another great way to prepare a glossary of legal terminology is to compare versions of legislation and decisions available in different languages. I would recommend EUR-Lex, the European law database and the United Nations Security Council documents as useful starting points.
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