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Navigating the Grey: Ethical Challenges in Legal Translation

March 6, 2024
Navigating the Grey: Ethical Challenges in Legal Translation

Ethical Challenges in Legal Translation

‘Could you just write a translator’s note explaining what the writer actually meant to say?’

Using Translator’s Notes in NAATI Legal Documents – An Ethical Dilemma

Translating legal documents can be made all the more difficult when there are grammatical errors, vague sentences, or illegible text in the source document. Ethical issues arise when a client asks you: ‘could you just translate the intended meaning of the text’ or ‘I’ve just spoken with my client, could you just write a translator’s note explaining what the writer actually meant to say?’.

Balancing Accuracy and Client Satisfaction

Working as a freelance translator, you naturally want to ensure that your clients are 100% happy with your translations. You also want to ensure your translation remains true to the source document. As a result, you may experience some internal conflict when this happens. However, when it comes to certifying legal documents, using translator’s notes that support a client’s case may go against the principle of impartiality under the AUSIT Code of Ethics.

The Role of Impartiality

You should ask yourself, ‘Why would I write a translator’s note that supports a client’s case and not a translator’s note that doesn’t support their case? An impartial translator would not do this. Am I just doing this so your client is happy and will continue using my services?’

As NAATI Certified translators, it’s not our job to believe clients when they tell us what the ‘intended meaning’ of a word or sentence that is grammatically incorrect, is a vague sentence, or is illegible. We must remain impartial. This can be a tough thing to do, especially when you are almost 100% sure of the intended meaning yourself. The most common way I deal with this issue is to tell clients: ‘I believe you, but as a NAATI-accredited translator, I’m not allowed to believe you. So, I’m unable to write a translator’s note in this instance.’

Written by Jared K.
Chinese Translator at Translation Bound
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