German-English legal contracts workshop

The ITI is offering a workshop on contract translation: Dual German/English Contracts Workshop in Milton Keynes in May. Event Details:

This workshop – aimed at both established and aspiring legal translators working from German into English and English into German – will boost your knowledge about German and English contracts and improve your translation skills in this field.

During the session, you will:

Discover the difference between English and German legal language and the implications for legal translation

Have put theory into practice, identified and discussed legal translation problems in specific language direction, based on a short contract

Learn how to solve terminological problems and improve your legal writing style

Know how to acquire the necessary linguistic skills and improve your proficiency in this particular field


Speakers Angela Sigee and Rebecca Smith

Translation blogging

I think this year I will probably ignore this blog’s birthday (early April, 15?). When I started there were a few translation blogs, although probably no other legal translation blogs. I thought that after I stopped teaching legal translation, I still had a lot of things to say about it. But nowadays I am more likely to post interesting links to Twitter. Goodness knows how many I am missing.

A websearch brings up a lot of posts on ‘Best translation blogs’. I am fond of this description of mine:

  • Transblawg is dedicated to German-English legal translation. The posts, written by Werner Patels, are full of humor and entertainment, which makes his blog fun and quite useful at the same time. It offers help and information to translators on a variety of topics and specializations.

This should teach me not to be so full of myself.

Here’s a new legal translation blog: Language with a Pinch of Law.

Like many, it’s the offshoot of a legal translation firm. It’s run by Paula Arturo and its languages are US English and Spanish (Argentina) and Portuguese (Brazil). There is an active Twitter feed too. It goes into US legal usage quite a lot (often quoting  Ken Adams or Bryan Garner (Black’s Law Dictionary)). There is also apparently a Facebook group called Legal Writing and Translation, (‘For those who passionately pursue linguistic excellence’), but I haven’t investigated it. The main emphasis of the blog is probably translating US contracts (common law) into Spanish (civil law).

Nikki Graham in her Tranix blog (My words for a change) started a translation and interpreting BLOG survey in January of this year, and she has now published a first post on the results: Blogging is not dead.

She had 190 responses. One finding was that over 84% of those replying do read blogs (but then why would they fill in a survey about blogging if they didn’t?). The next question: is blogging good for your business? The majority did not think so.

I had a problem with that question because I did not create this blog directly to be good for my business, although it might appeal to other translators, and if legal translation is not their special field they might recommend me to their clients. But then again I seem to have enough work.

There are a lot of quotes from survey answers. There is to be a second part:

In part 2 of the survey results, we’ll look at the reasons why people do and don’t blog.

I will be interested in that. When I started this blog, the world of advertising yourself as a translator was very different.

From another blog: Martin Crellin, in false friends, good and bad translation, posts on becoming a German. He writes in German, despite the English title. I was amused to read that one of the places he had to apply to asked for a handwritten c.v. – although he found out later he could have done it on the computer. I remember handwritten cvs!

Translating a German judgment – Project Gutenberg case

Here are the two texts I am about to discuss:

Original German judgment of Frankfurt am Main Regional Court

English translation of the judgment

Here is an IPKAT post on the case.

I apologize in advance if I seem to be nitpicking in the following, since the translation is excellent and reads very well in English, although the latter is not a 100% requirement in legal translation. I assume the translation was commissioned by the Cologne law firm Wilde Beuger Solmecke, who represented both Project Gutenberg and its managing director and CEO Dr. Gregory Newby.

A commenter on my earlier post is interested in a discussion of the US English aspects of this translation. I had not thought about that. It is very similar to a British English text. However, I suppose that people might be interested on what strikes me, so I will report on that at the end.

The following are just a few remarks out of many that could be made!

Use of reported speech

Anyone translating a German judgment into English must make it clear when a statement is direct speech (the words of the court) and when it is indirect speech (the submissions of the parties). This translation does that very well.

An example: in the section of the judgment setting out the facts of the case, the words of the parties often have to be summarized, and it must be made clear in German and English that these are what the parties state.

p. 7  Die Beklagten behaupten, dass die Beklagte zu 1) keine Kenntnis von der Nationalität ihrer Nutzer habe.

Tr: The defendants claim that the first defendant has no knowledge of the nationality of its users.

No problem here.

p. 8 Die Beklagten seien nicht zum Schadensersatz verpflichtet, da sie weder vorsätzlich noch fahrlässig gehandelt hätten.

Tr. The defendants claim they are not liable for damages as their actions were neither willful  nor grossly negligent.

Here it was necessary to make it clear that this was a party’s statement, and also which party stated it.

This may seem elementary, but it is something that inexperienced translators often overlook. It also surprises me that native speakers of German who translate into English (quite common not only in Germany but in the USA, where Germans may have lived so long that they feel more comfortable with English than with German) do not always realize that this is reported speech: they learnt it from hearing it, rather than from being taught the grammar.

There are various ways of indicating reported speech. One possiblity is to write ‘The defendants submitted as follows” and then make it clear typographically that several paragraphs are the defendants’ statements. I don’t myself use ‘allege’ or ‘allegedly’, unlike the translator here, because I find it suggests that there was something suspicious about the statement – here is an example:

Die Handlungen der Freiwilligen könnten den Beklagten nicht zugerechnet werden.
The actions of the volunteers can allegedly not be attributed to the defendants.

I would rather know who ‘alleges’ this, although it is probably clear from the rest of the paragraph.

Translating court names

Landgericht Frankfurt am Main
District Court of Frankfurt am Main

I prefer Frankfurt am Main Regional Court (recommended by German authorities).
District Court: this is unclear – does it mean Landgericht or Amtsgericht? On page 10 (and elsewhere) reference to a decision by ‚Regional Court of Hamburg‘.


…hat das Landgericht Frankfurt am Main – 3. Zivilkkammer –
durch Vorsitzenden Richter am Landgericht Dr. Kurth,..
… the District Court of Frankfurt am Main – 3rd Civil Division –
through Dr. Kurth, Presiding Judge at the District Court

I would say the court is ‚sitting with (judges)‘ or ‚composed of‘…

IV Von den Kosten des Rechtsstreits haben die Beklagten jeweils die Hälfte zu tragen.
The defendants shall pay half of the costs of the proceedings respectively.

The defendants shall bear half of the costs of the proceedings each.

What I would do differently

Bezug wird genommen
reference shall be made

Me: Reference is made

Es wird festgestellt, dass die Beklagten als Gesamtschuldner verpflichtet sind, der Klägerin Schadenersatz zu leisten…
The court finds that the defendants, as the joint and several debtors, are obligated to pay damages to the plaintiff

Me: The court finds that the defendants are liable as joint and several debtors to pay damages to the plaintiff

nach §32 ZPO
pursuant to §32 ZPO (German Rules of Civil Procedure)

Me: under section 32 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Zivilprozessordnung)

§ 97 Abs. 1 UrhG
§ 97 sec. 1 UrhG

Me: section 97 (1) Copyright Act

I would not translate Rechtsanwälte as attorneys-at-law, but just as attorneys. The former sounds too much like part of the common-law system.
I would not use authorized proxy for Prozessbevollmächtigte – I would reserve proxy for someone representing another at an AGM. Maybe attorney of record or counsel.


What makes this translation US English?
There aren’t many differences from British English here.
The usual: obligate (rather than oblige, which is less common in BrE than be under a duty)
not proven


Translating judgments – Project Gutenberg blocks German users


Following a dispute on copyright between Project Gutenberg in the USA and S. Fischer Verlag – German copyright still covers some works by Thomas Mann, Heinrich Mann and Alfred Döblin, but they are in the public domain in the USA – the Frankfurt am Main Regional Court (Landgericht) has ordered Project Gutenberg to block access to 18 texts to users in Germany, following which Project Gutenberg has blocked all access to Project Gutenberg in Germany, as Chris Meadows on TeleRead reports:

Project Gutenberg blocks German users after court rules in favor of Holtzbrinck subsidiary

Here’s a better summary than mine: Court Order to block access in Germany.

This case has been going on for a while and there will presumably be an appeal.

Incidentally, there is a German Projekt Gutenberg, run by Spiegel Online, which is not involved here and which I am sure complies with German copyright law.

At all events, the articles quoted give links to the original judgment and the English translation. I don’t think we often see such a good chance to comment on translating judgments (I’ve done much more translating of decisions than of contracts over the years) so in a separate post I will comment on the translation.

Can legal translators be replaced by machines?

In recent months at least, it seems that machine translation, based on huge databases of sample translations (neural networks), has massively improved. DeepL is one example. Professional translators would avoid using this as their translations might be integrated into the system, which would be a breach of their client confidentiality. But I do suspect that any law firm processing a huge pile of exhibits in a foreign language and wondering which pages would be worth translating can have the whole lot rapidly machine-translated, then zoom in on the most relevant bits and have them machine-translated.

Peter Winslow, a legal translator with a penchant for Karl Kraus, has posted in a Beck Verlag forum three translations of a sentence, two of which are machine translators and the third by a human translator with to me dubious qualifications:

Nur eine der nachstehenden Übersetzungen ins Deutsche wurde von einem menschlichen Übersetzer angefertigt, die anderen zwei stammen von maschinellen Übersetzungssystemen (vor mindestens sechs Monaten). … Erkennen Sie, welche Übersetzung der menschliche Übersetzer angefertigt hat? Der Mensch ist Deutscher und deutscher Muttersprachler. Er ist Diplom-Übersetzer – sogar für die englische Sprache allgemein beeidigt und öffentlich bestellt – und gibt an, mehr als fünf Jahre Berufserfahrung als freiberuflicher Übersetzer zu haben.

Presumably most readers of this quiz will be German lawyers, and of course they will ask themselves how to know whether a translator can be relied on. It isn’t easy. Someone who has studied translation at a German university will probably have learnt little about legal translation, although you may need to show legal knowledge to be qualified to translate for the courts. It would be better to find a translator with specific legal experience or qualifications, and experience in doing legal translations. But I think one problem is that lawyers specialize, whereas legal translators tend to specialize only in law, not in a narrow area of law. They may have years of experience in a particular area of legal translation, or they may not. I hope most big law firms that do a lot of international work will have inhouse translation teams including trained translators, who will know how to evaluate any software systems used for translation. With smaller firms it is less likely.

The sentence taken as an example is “This policy defines the specific server roles required to implement the server program.” This sentence is hardly typical of legal translations.

(I am guessing, like Prof. Dr. Müller, that the second version is the native speaker of German – the answer has not yet been revealed).

One problem at the moment seems to be that agencies are using MT and the occasional sentence is quite wrong. They then require “proof-reading” from a freelance, but if only the final product is reviewed, in English for example, the error may not be evident, although the review will be cheaper than if it were compared with the original.

(With thanks to Igor Plotkin for posting this on a mailing list)

Legal Integration and Language Diversity: book on translation in EU lawmaking

Legal Integration and Language Diversity: Rethinking Translation in EU Lawmaking, by C.J.W. Baaij – Oxford University Press, coming out in February

This book should be interesting. It comes to the conclusion that particularly after Brexit, it would be a good idea for English to be the original language of all legislation.

  • Introduces the first comprehensive quantitative analysis of the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, spanning 50 years, focusing on interpreting and solving discrepancies between language versions of EU legislation

  • Integrates a variety of analytic methods and gathers data from both policy document analyses, interviews, and quantitative and qualitative examination of the EU’s Institutional Multilingualism

  • Builds a normative theoretical framework from legal translation studies and comparative law, general translation theory and language philosophy, and European studies

  • Proposes three EU policy changes that question mainstream thinking, from both political and theoretical vantage points

  • Argues that Brexit provides an additional reason in favor of rather than against recognizing English as the primary official language of the EU

(Via Wildy & Sons newsletter)

Follow-up to ‘Strafbefehle must be translated’

In a recent post Strafbefehle must be translated I linked to the CJEU case on the subject. At that time, only the Advocate General’s opinion was available in English, but now I’ve called up a bilingual version of the judgment.

I’m treating the German as the original version and only commenting on any elements which may be German rather than EU.

Thus the term Strafbefehl is now penalty order, not penal order
Unfallflucht: failure to stop at the scene of an accident

German law: two sections of the Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz are transllated. There is an ‘official’ translation online in Germany, by Kathleen Müller-Rostin, but this was not used.

§ 187 des Gerichtsverfassungsgesetzes (GVG) sieht in seinem Abs. 1 vor, dass für einen Beschuldigten, der der deutschen Sprache nicht mächtig ist, ein Dolmetscher oder Übersetzer heranzuziehen ist, soweit dies zur Ausübung seiner strafprozessualen Rechte erforderlich ist.

Official translation (Courts Constitution Act)
The court shall call in an interpreter or a translator for an accused or convicted person who does not have a command of the German language or is hearing impaired or speech impaired, insofar as this is necessary for the exercise of his rights under the law of criminal procedure. The court shall advise the accused in a language he understands that he may to this extent demand that an interpreter or a translator be called in for the entire criminal proceedings free of charge.

Paragraph 187(1) of the Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz (Law on the Judicial System, ‘the GVG’) provides that, for an accused who does not have a command of the German language, recourse must be had to an interpreter or translator in so far as that is necessary for the exercise of his rights of defence in criminal proceedings.

I note: Law of the Judicial System instead of Courts Constitution Act – I remember that ‘constitution’ though correct confuses some non-native speakers, who think it refers to constitutional law, so there’s an argument for avoiding it. I like judicial system. Judicature Act is sometimes used, and I think that confuses people too. There are so many words beginning with ‘ju-‘ in legal English and they aren’t always understood. (Is that true of ‘judicial’ too?) I would stick to Act rather than Law.
Call in or have recourse to an interpreter – the latter is a bit pompous. ‘That is necessary’ seems a bit less idiomatic than ‘this is necessary’. I don’t know why ‘rights of defence’ is used rather than ‘rights under the law of criminal procedure’.
Section is really widely used, rather than paragraph, in English translation.

Des Weiteren bestimmt § 187 GVG in seinem Abs. 2, dass zur Ausübung der strafprozessualen Rechte eines Beschuldigten, der der deutschen Sprache nicht mächtig ist, in der Regel die schriftliche Übersetzung von freiheitsentziehenden Anordnungen sowie von Anklageschriften, Strafbefehlen und nicht rechtskräftigen Urteilen erforderlich ist.

Official translation
As a rule, a written translation of custodial orders as well as of bills of indictment, penal orders and non-binding judgments shall be necessary for the exercise of the rights under the law of criminal procedure of an accused who does not have a command of the German language.

In addition, Paragraph 187(2) of the GVG provides that, as a rule, a written translation of custodial orders as well as of indictments, penalty orders and non-final judgments is necessary for the exercise of the rights of defence of an accused who does not have a command of the German language.

Not much to say here, but one point that is sometimes overlooked and is handled correctly in boht cases here: if this is a summary of the law rather than a quotation, shall is out of place. It is not used to summarize law or contract. It is used within a statute or a contract with intended binding effect, but it is not customary to us it in reporting texts.

The German law continues with the Code of Criminal Procedure. Official translation: Original translation by Brian Duffett and Monika Ebinger
Translation updated by Kathleen Müller-Rostin and Iyamide Mahdi. However, I don’t have any useful comments on this, but here it is since I’ve collated it:

Nach § 37 Abs. 3 der Strafprozessordnung (StPO) ist bei einem der deutschen Sprache nicht mächtigen Angeklagten nur das „Urteil“ zusammen mit einer Übersetzung in eine dem Angeklagten verständliche Sprache zuzustellen.

Official translation
If a translation of the judgment is to be made available to a participant in the proceedings pursuant to section 187 subsections (1) and (2) of the Courts Constitution Act, the judgment shall be served together with the translation. In such cases service on the other participants in the proceedings shall be effected at the same time as service pursuant to the first sentence.

Paragraph 37(3) of the Strafprozessordnung (Code of Criminal Procedure, ‘the StPO’) provides that, for an accused without a command of the German language, only the ‘judgment’ (Urteil) must be served, together with its translation into a language the accused understands.


I think these further thoughts on DE>EN legal translation are enough for the time being.




Another legal translation and interpreting conference on the horizon:


Legal Translation and Interpreting in a Changing World: Technology – Outsourcing – Shifts

This one is in Bonn in September 2018 and is organized by Aticom and the FIT.

and is pleased to invite

translators, interpreters, academics, researchers, students and practitioners

to attend the Forum

at Gustav-Stresemann-Institut (
in Bonn, Germany, from 6th to 8th September 2018

The languages used at the Forum will be English, French and German and the topics will range from LTI standards and best practices via international cooperation to videoconferencing and machine translation.

 I am not sure what ‘shifts’ are – presumably not petticoats.
LTI apparently stands for Legal Translation and Interpreting. I’m not sure where the abbreviation originates from and how long it’s been around. However, this is called the thirteenth international forum so there must have been twelve already. It appears the twelfth was in Peru, but the others were in Europe. More info from the FIT newsletter perhaps:

Strafbefehle must be translated – CJEU

Udo Vetter at lawblog reports that the CJEU held that a Strafbefehl must be translated if the defendant doesn’t speak German. Here’s the decision of October 12 2017.

Directive 2010/64 on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings (you can call up a bilingual version here too). The relevant bit is recital 30:

Safeguarding the fairness of the proceedings requires that essential documents, or at least the relevant passages of such documents, be translated for the benefit of suspected or accused persons in accordance with this Directive.


Zur Gewährleistung eines fairen Verfahrens ist es erforderlich, dass wesentliche Unterlagen oder zumindest die maßgeblichen Passagen solcher Unterlagen für die verdächtigen oder beschuldigten Personen gemäß dieser Richtlinie übersetzt werden.

A Dutch national, Frank Sleutjes, was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and served the Strafbefehl (order of summary punishment) in German – only the details on how to appeal were translated. The Düren local court did not translate the order itself – normal practice nowadays. The European court finds that the Strafbefehl is an essential document.

I last discussed the subject here (the language of the court is German). We used to translate these all the time and presumably local courts will now be obliged to have them translated again.

There is not (yet) an English translation of the decision online, but there is an English translation of the Advocate General’s opinion. I see they translate Strafbefehl as penal order. I am not convinced by Tagessätze as daily penalties. More on the English perhaps later.

There is an amusing exchange in the comments on lawblog.

Bin mir nicht sicher wie ich das sehen soll.
Auf der einen Seite müssen die Leute den Text verstehen können, schon klar.
Auf der anderen Seite, woher weiß ich die Sprache die die Person spricht und wo nehme ich die Übersetzer her?
AFAIK gibt es etwa 7000 Sprachen weltweit. Und für die soll man nun immer Übersetzer vorhalten?
Klingt irgendwie nicht so gut durchdacht.

There’s a nice reference to the defendant (Beschuldiger) as “der Delinquent”.

Articles by Geoffrey Perrin (and Margaret Marks)

Many years ago, when I was teaching legal translation in Erlangen, I found some articles by Geoffrey Perrin which were very useful to me. Geoffrey let me put them on my website, but for some years after a move of the site they were not available. Now I had added a page with three of them, and also an old article by myself on translating German court names into English.

Geoffrey Perrin was at one time in the language department of the German Federal Ministry of Justice, then in Bonn, and later at the Bundessprachenamt at Hürth. The articles are on the many words for ‘copy’ in German, which unlike English prefers specific terms like Abdruck, Ablichtung, Abschrift and at least ten others; on how to translate ‘Rechtsverordnung’ (not necessarily as ordinance), and on the terminology of the juvenile criminal law – although the German terminology may change over the years, the article is still useful.

The link to the page Articles can be found in the column on the right.