‘Legal translation’, ‘certified translation’, ‘official translation’, ‘sworn translation’… is there a difference between these terms?
What does a legal translator actually do? Does the ‘official translator’ really exist in Italy?
Both linguists and clients tend to use the terms above interchangeably. However, legal translation in Italy is characterized by very precise peculiarities, often confused or misinterpreted even among experts.
In this article, we will analyze the role of the legal translator in Italy, debunking false myths and providing an overview of the main differences between Italy, France, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Some terminological clarification: legal translation in Italy
In Italy, the term ‘legal translation’ (traduzione giuridica) refers to translation in the legal field.
Otherwise, the terms ‘sworn translation’, ‘certified translation’, and ‘official translation’ (respectively traduzione giurata, traduzione certificata and traduzione ufficiale) are referred to a translation that has been sworn before the Court, the Justice of the Peace or the Notary. According to this definition, the chrism of formality is only given by the swearing-in procedure, which makes the text ‘official’. In Italy, an official translation is not necessarily the translation of a legal or judicial document, but may also concern other kinds of documents (e.g. instructions for use of a manual, medical certificates, etc.).
In Italy, the profession of translator is not officially recognised. Thus, there is no official Register. Therefore, unlike other countries, in Italy there is no ‘official translator’ (traduttore ufficiale). Translators operating in this field cannot be defined as ‘official, certified or sworn translators’, since they only are professionals specializing in legal translation. The wording ‘official translator’ only exists in relation to the UNI standards relating to professional associations. For example, if a translator is registered with a national professional association such as AITI (Italian Association of Translators and Interpreters), which recognises and certifies their skills in a given field by issuing a UNI certification, the latter may be defined as ‘official or certified translator’ pursuant to this standard.
Very often, in Italy, the wording ‘official translator’ is associated with the registration in the Register of Office Technical Consultants or Technical Experts (Albo dei Periti Tecnici e Consuenti d’Ufficio). However, this registration does not confer any formalities on the translator or the translation, which must be sworn to become official. Enrolment in one or both of these Registers is up to the translator, and has no connection with the wording ‘official translator’.
A few words about the swearing-in procedure in Italy
In Italy, the swearing-in procedure consists of taking an oath in Court, before the Justice of the Peace, the Registrar, the Notary or other competent authority. The translator swears an oath certifying that their translation conforms to the original, and the authority concerned certifies it. During the swearing-in procedure in Court, stamps and signatures are affixed by the Public Official as well as a number called numero di cronologico (‘chronological number’), which classifies all sworn translations deposited in a given Office. On the other hand, if a translation is sworn by the Notary, the latter affixes the numero di repertorio (‘repertoire number’), since the translation automatically becomes a notarial deed. However, the translator is neither required to certify the validity of the original or translated text nor its actual lawfulness. Translators can request swearing-in procedures anywhere in Italy, but application procedures vary according to the Courts.
Legal translation in France
In France, unlike in Italy, the profession of translator is regulated. There is therefore the wording traducteur assermenté, a translator who is officially empowered to certify the validity of the translation by affixing their own stamp (traduction assermentée). After submitting a dossier to be enrolled in the list of the traducteurs assermentés of their municipality or district of residence and having passed a specific process of recognition of their skills, translators take an oath that authorizes them to certify their translations in the legal field by affixing their stamp each time. The traducteur assermenté may affix their stamp only for the language pairs for which they have taken the oath, and their translations have legal force exclusively on French territory. As a consequence, if the traduction assermentée must have legal force in Italy, the translator must resort to the swearing-in procedure.
Legal translation in the United States
Generally, in the United States, the notion of ‘sworn translation’ does not exist. There is, however, the ‘certified translation’, that is, a translation performed by a professional accompanied by a letter (‘affidavit or ‘certificate of accuracy’) signed and dated by the translator certifying the conformity and fidelity of the translation. Consequently, if an Italian translator were to perform a ‘certified translation’ for an American client, they should first make sure with the same that it is actually a ‘certified translation’ according to American practice, or if a ‘sworn translation’ is required instead.
Legal translation in the UK
In the United Kingdom, there are different types of legal translation:
1. ‘Certified Translation’ (simpler case): the translator accompanies the translation with a certificate of accuracy, also called Statement of Truth, to certify the validity of the target text.
2. ‘Sworn translation’ or ‘Affidavit’: if the translation must have legal force, the translator has to draw up a signed declaration and then go before a lawyer declaring the accuracy and truthfulness of the translation. This procedure is very similar to the swearing-in procedure in Italy.
3. ‘Notarised translation’: the translator must take an oath before the Public Notary. Usually, in Italy, this procedure is carried out before the Notary, who can also affix the apostille if the document must have legal value abroad.
4. ‘Legalization of a translation by the Foreign of Commonwealth Office’ (FCO): if the document is to have legal value abroad, the translator must have their translation legalized at this Office. In Italy, this type of translation corresponds to a sworn and legalized translation.
In the next articles, we will deepen some aspects of legal translation, analyze in detail the swearing-in procedure in Italy and explain the concepts of legalization and apostille.
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