Clients often request a certified translation, but the term certified can mean different things in different contexts. How can we make sure that clients are actually getting what they really need to ensure that all translations are admissible in evidence and accepted by the court?
To understand when and why a certified translation may be necessary, it is important to have a solid grasp of the difference between certified and noncertified translations of written documents compared with “certifications” issued by various agencies to oral interpreters, and to understand the different requirements for translations versus interpretations in different court systems.
What Is A Certified Translation Of A Written Document?
As a matter of industry custom, for a translation of a written document to be certified, a signed statement attesting to the completeness and accuracy of the translation typically accompanies both the newly translated document and the original copy. A notary public then notarizes this statement. Such certifications of written translations are called for by documents that require a certified translation or a certificate of accuracy.
Reputable and reliable translation companies entrust certified translations to their more experienced and highest-qualified translators in the area of specialty (e.g., legal, medical or scientific translations) and will have a specialty editor proofread the final document before it is certified.
Full-scale translation agencies are better equipped to certify a translation than a single linguist chosen from an online database because agencies are able to provide additional services in-house, such as notarization and proofreading by specialists in the subject area of the translation.
Interpreters V. Translators
The requirements for an oral interpretation are often different from those for a written translation. For instance, most courts require that an oral interpreter be certified, but some courts do not require that a translator of a written document be certified. It is particularly important to note these nuances when it comes to winning cases in court.
In 1995, Congress passed the Court Interpreters Act, 28 U.S.C. 1827, requiring the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to establish a program to facilitate the use of certified and otherwise qualified interpreters in judicial proceedings.
Unfortunately, the act does not pertain to translations of written documents but only applies to the qualifications required for in-person oral interpretations.
There is no federal law or local rule pertaining to the qualification for a translator of written documents. Indeed, neither translation nor interpretation appears in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or the Southern District of Florida Local Rules of Court.
Thus, South Florida’s federal courts have no rule requiring translators of written documents to be certified. Section 2N of the Civil Filing Requirements, which was issued by the clerk of the Southern District of Florida and revised on March 12, 2014, states, “Documents not written in English must be accompanied by a translation unless a waiver has been granted by the court.”
Accordingly, a certificate of translation or certified translation does not mean that the translator is a “certified federal court written translator” because no such appellation exists.
Of course, some translators are certified by the American Translators Association, but again there is no requirement in federal court that a translator must be ATA-certified.
Our approach is to mirror the best practices in the legal translation industry for the past 50 years, including using only ATA-certified translators and preferably translators who are natives of the target-language country, region and dialect. We provide notarized certifications with every translation and suggest that the original source text be included behind the certificate with every translated-document filing.
These certifications are not just perfunctory. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit refused to reverse an immigration appeals judge who ordered a person to be deported because the affidavit she submitted was “unaccompanied by a certificate of translation.” See Villalobos v. U.S. Attorney General.
Florida State Courts
Similarly, the Florida court system does not have any promulgated rule or legal decision requiring certified translations of written documents, and there is no official certification program in Florida for translators of written document. Nevertheless, most experienced litigation attorneys rely on certified translations.
In 2008, the Florida Supreme Court implemented a court interpreter certification and regulation program, which only applies to interpreters of oral communications in court, in the following languages: Arabic, Cantonese, French, Haitian Creole, Hmong, Ilocano, Khmer, Korean, Laotian, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese.
Industry practice reveals the need for accurate translations provided by certified translators in the correct format. Law firms should seek a translation service that follows the industry’s best practices.
Partnering with a translation firm that provides notarized ATA certifications for all written translations will help ensure that all translations are admissible in evidence and accepted by the court. Having a translator that is qualified and certified by the OSCA court interpreter program will add a level of integrity to any certification.
In conclusion, it is important to check the local rules of court and whether the court is federal or state to make certain whether there are any particular requirements for certified translations of written documents.
Marcela Arbelaez is CEO and managing partner of Lingua Franca Legal Solutions and Lingua Franca Translations (LF Translations). She is a translator who is fluent in Spanish, German, French and English.
Originally published in the Daily Business Review
Read more: Make Sure Court Documents Aren’t Lost in Translation