Oxford Handbook of Language and Law

The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law has finally appeared. (That is a link to OUP, where you can also see some of the material).

You can see the table of contents and more at Peter Tiersma’s website – which I recommend in general if you don’t already know it.

I was particularly interested in the articles on translation, but now I look at the titles, I see that most of them deal with jurisdictions with one legal system and more than one language. I don’t know about Susan Sarkevic, I just know that her book (New Approach to Legal Translation) had a lot of stuff on that kind of ‘translation’ of legislation. This is the – outdated – list on Peter Tiersma’s site:

III. Multilingualism and Translation

Michel Bastarache, The Interpretation of Bilingual Statutes
Jan Engberg, Word Meaning and the Globalized Legal Order
Susan Sarcevic, Challenges to the Legal Translator
Karen McAuliffe, Translating Laws in the EU
(Maria Teresa Turrel and Teresa Castiñeira, Issues Facing a Multilingual Legal System)

The last item has been replaced by an article on Fifty Years of Multilingual Interpretation in the European Union by Cornelius J.W. Baaij.

What I’m interested in is translation from one language and jurisdiction, especially civil law, to another language with a different jurisdiction, especially common law. I have never understood the various language versions of EU statutes to be translations, even if in some sense translation is involved.

Still, I would be interested to see what they say.

The book is very expensive but there is actually a Kindle version and you can get it from amazon.de. I find that quite rare with law books – usually if they appear in the UK or USA, I can’t get them electronically.

Harry Potter translators and WB/Urheberrecht der Harry-Potter-Übersetzer und der 350-Kilo-Gorilla

Via Katy Derbyshire in love German books, a sad tale of how an Israeli translator of Harry Potter didn’t even get a ticket to the press screening of the film, let alone recognition of the translation, which was used in the subtitles.

The whole sad story is told by Gili Bar-Hillel, who writes a blog usually in Hebrew, but in this case an English post:

Though I was not employed by Warner Bros. and not contractually obligated towards them, such was the power of this company that they were able to threaten me by proxy. As far as I was able to figure out, Warner Bros. bullied the Christopher Little Agency into bullying the various international publishers to bully their translators into retroactively waiving all rights to their translations, under the threat that otherwise the publishers would not be sold translation rights to future books in the series. This is how it happened to me: I was invited to a chat with the Israeli publisher after I had already translated the first three books in a series. He met me in a café and required me to sign a memo, which I was not allowed to read in advance or show to anyone else, and of which I was not allowed to retain a copy. I was told I must sign on the spot or the job of translating future Harry Potter books would be given to another translator. As far as I was able to understand, the memo was a promise to Warner Bros. that I would not claim trademark on any of the translated terms I had invented. I could sign or be cut off from Harry Potter forever. I signed.

It later became apparent that to Warner Bros. this memo was tantamount to a complete waiver of any and all intellectual rights I may have thought to lay claim to. When the Harry Potter films were distributed in Israel, my translation served as the basis for the subtitles and dubbing scripts of the film, without my permission or that of the Israeli publisher. I never received any compensation for this. I was never thanked or credited. In fact, the translator who was responsible for the Hebrew titles complained that her contract from Warner Bros. obliged her to use my translation.

Read the whole thing.

In comparison, Sharon Neeman had it easy – when I think of translators in Israel, I remember her song on YouTube, 5,000 words, all translated for lawyers, of course (and let me repeat that a normal day’s work is nearer 2,000 words).

5000 Words (video)

Apparently there is a CD too – order5000words@gmail.com for details (at least, this was the story in February 2009).

Seminar on legal English: Contract Law

This was a great seminar on legal English and contract law given by Stuart Bugg, who is a NZ and English lawyer (he was born in Yorkshire, which I didn’t know) and run by the Regensburg section of the BDÜ. It was on March 24th and lasted all day.

Actually I have stopped writing up seminars, because it can be invidious: one finishes up either being unintentionally nasty or stealing all their good material. So I will be brief. Everything about this seminar was excellent, especially the good materials and the relaxed atmosphere which allowed us to have a good discussion on a number of points while at the same time snaffling about 100 pages of good stuff. Probably seminar leaders know that we translators never find time to read them afterwards. The organization was also very good – coffee and lunch breaks on time and ran very smoothly.

Here are some pictures of the venue (Thon-Dittmer Palais) and the place for lunch:

Stuart Bugg is one of the authors of the Langenscheidt-ALPMANN Fachwörterbuch Kompakt Recht, which has come out in a second edition since I referred to it. He has also published Contracts in English – an introductory guide to understanding, using and developing “Anglo-American” style contracts. I had a look at this in advance and was impressed. You can see the table of contents at the link above. Stuart specializes in contracts and contract law and refers to all common-law jurisdictions. My only criticism of the book so far is that over one-third of it consists of texts like the Law Reform (Frustrated Contracts) Act 1943 which can be found on the internet. The reason for this, as I have mentioned before, is that the book is partly directed at lawyers, and German lawyers are often kept on a short leash as far as using the internet and CD-ROMs is concerned, so they like to have stuff in books. Stuart confirmed this and said the software can mess up the internal IT systems.

Now I don’t want to go into any detail, and indeed, I’ve got to find time to process all my notes and the materials while it’s fresh in my mind. But some notes, partly on things I need to think about:

1. Stuart said that when he translates a German contract into English, English lawyers tend to think it’s wrong. Exactly! If an English lawyer thinks your translation sounds like an English contract, something is amiss. We also discuss liability. I don’t translate a contract unless it says the language and law governing it are German – because if I were to convert a German text into a common-law one, I would be acting as a lawyer, and I am neither registered nor insured for that. Stuart said that there is a third clause: the jurisdiction should be Germany too, since otherwise you might land up in the Saudia Arabia courts, albeit with German law as the basis.

2. Must give more thought to the terminology of ending contracts, which has been pursuing me for a few decades now. We talked about rescission and also about cancellation (avoid the latter term).

3. Gewährleistung (a term I think the BGB has done away with), Garantie, warranty, Bürgschaft: another can of worms.

4. Must investigate what deeds are in the USA. I thought specialty contracts were only valid in England and that deeds in the USA were just smoke and mirrors for clients, but apparently I was wrong and you do need a deed in the USA to convey land. I may come back to this.

5. Got a bit tied up on how to translate §. Because of course, it’s one thing translating § in a statute, but another in a contract. I tend to leave the §, which is probably stupid, since it confuses some British people (but what doesn’t?). It comes up both in a heading and when referred to later (clause?)

6. Differences between damages (only monetary) and Schadensersatz. (I was a bit surprised to see a recent online translation of the Zivilprozessordnung using damages to mean Schäden).

7. Translating Vertragsstrafe – not as liquidated damages, because that would imply the complete sum.

8. Apparently Germans confuse arbitrary and arbitral, haha!

9. Many had no idea what bailment is. Of course, easily confused with bail and bailiff.

10. We discussed shall and will and must a lot. Agree that will and shall are both binding in contracts. Sure enough, I almost immediately got a contract a client had altered, using will in the added bits where I had used shall in the rest. Not a big problem, but I decided it would be safer to stick to one throughout.

And here is a contemporary pillar at Regensburg Station (one of several):

How to succeed in business/ALS (GB) und ein Weblog zu Finanzübersetzung

Miguel Llorens in Madrid has a weblog called Financial Translation Blog, which is new to me. It’s subtitled ‘A dose of skepticism to guard against localization hype, courtesy of Miguel Llorens, an English-Spanish financial translator’

And he did a wonderful job on Gavin Wheeldon, who sold ALS to Capita in December riding on the hype of the Ministry of Justice contract for court interpreters which has since gone so badly wrong.

Wheeldon appeared a few years ago on a TV show called Dragons’ Den, where entrepreneurs try to convince a panel of potential investors to give them money. Wheeldon failed to do so, but didn’t he do well in selling last year?

Miguel has done a fantastic job on this story in a post called ALS’s Gavin Wheeldon: A Case Study in Cheap Translation, in particular giving a link to a video of Wheeldon’s performance on Dragons’ Den – and other links too.

He prefaces the story with a nice quote from The Producers:

Bialystock: Step 1: We find the worst play ever written.
Step 2: We hire the worst director in town.
Step 3: We raise two million dollars. … One for me, one for you.
There’s a lot of little old ladies out there!
Step 4: We hire the worst actors in
New York and open on Broadway and before you can say
Step 5: We close on Broadway, take our two million, and go to Rio.

(Got this link from Judith on the ITI GerNet mailing list)

RIP Tom Paine/Kater der Anwaltskneipe Seven Stars in London verstorben

It’s funny how you can walk around with a camera and be absolutely blind. A few years ago – it was 2006 – I was in Carey Street, near the famous lawyers’ pub Seven Stars. I saw a window with two barristers’ wigs on black velvet, so I took some time to photograph them. (I even blogged this at the time).

But I had a strange feeling I wasn’t alone, and after some time I saw that to the side of the wigs was a large black cat watching me.

I see he has something like a dog tag hanging from his neck.

I have now been reading about the famous pub cat Tom Paine of the Seven Stars, and I realized that was actually a side window of the pub, and in this picture you can see the view from inside the pub.

I had been meaning to go and see him, not realizing I already had. And in October 2011 it was reported he died.

The memorial poem ends with a play on Alexander Pope’s Epigram Engraved on the Collar of a Dog Which I Gave to His Royal Highness:

I am his Highness’ dog at Kew;
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?

Webinars on English legal language

Juliette Scott has a blog post on Webinars in June and July 2012 on English legal language. They will be given by eCPD Webinars – here’s the link. More information there, and it also says details may change.

26 June, 11:30 am BST. Contracts and Contract Formation for Legal Translators (1 x 1 hour webinar) £20
Covering: contract formation, remedies for breach, some common contract clauses and Terminology, litigation terminology.

28 June, 9:30 am and 11:30 am BST. The English Legal System for Legal Interpreters and Translators (2 x 1 hour webinars) £40
Covering: background, the legal profession in England and Wales, proceedings in court, litigation terminology … and more

3 July, 9:30 am and 11:30 am BST. Criminal Law and Procedure for Legal Interpreters and Translators (2 x 1 hour webinars) £40
Covering: the required elements for criminal liability, capacity, principals and accessories, magistrates and Crown Court proceedings and appeals … and more

Book all five for just £90.00.

Our speaker is David Hutchins of Lexacom, who teaches these subjects at face-to-face workshops and seminars. If you are unable to travel to these, or just cannot spare the time to do so, these webinars are an ideal way to save time and cost and learn from a true expert from your own home or office.

David Hutchins has more on his website, Lexacom, including links to articles that have appeared on his seminars.

I’ve attended (?) two eCPD webinars and was pleased with them, particularly the one on using a corpus for translation research.

One of the best things about webinars to me is that they have brought more variety to the menu. Most of the local translators’ seminars are not personally interesting to me. Of course, there are always introductions to people’s favourite CAT programs, but that doesn’t include Transit. Why can’t someone do a seminar on that? Well, even if they did, who’s to say I would be able to attend it?

The BDÜ has also done some webinars and they are available later online for members. I see that at eCPD too you can purchase access to some past webinars.


I’m a bit late in recognizing the new abbreviation of the Court of Justice of the European Union, CJEU, rather than the earlier ECJ.

There’s a useful document in the House of Commons Library – Standard Note SN/IA/3689: The European Union: a guide to terminology, procedures and sources, last updated 16 March 2011.

Here’s the page where you can download it.

EC or EU law? Treaty of Rome or Treaty of Lisbon? First, Second or Third Pillar? Acquis Communautaire? Court of Justice or Court of Human Rights?
This Note aims to clarify some of the terminology used to describe the institutions, laws and procedures of the European Union. It also provides links to useful sources of information on the EU.

It’s 14 pages in length. It contains links for further research and reading.

9 European Courts
There are two main European Courts. Media reports sometimes confuse the two, alleging that the EC/EU has ruled on something when it is in fact the Court of Human Rights that has ruled, and vice versa.
• The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is the EU court which rules on alleged breaches of EC law and the Treaties. CJEU judgments (by convention not spelt with an ‘e’ as in ‘judgements’) can be found on the CURIA website..

The European Court of Human Rights is the Council of Europe court which rules on alleged breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights. ECHR judgments can be found on the HUDOC website.

Another point this document mentions is that since the Treaty of Lisbon, all EU legislation can be called EU law. This has been a point of contention in some sections of the ITI, because apparently at a talk they were advised not to use the term ‘EU law’ (although there are books on the subject).

4 EC law or EU law?
Former Article 281 of the Treaty of Rome as amended (and similar articles in the ECSC and Euratom Treaties) gave the EEC ‘legal personality’. That is to say, only the then EEC and its successor, the EC, had rights and obligations under international law allowing it to adopt laws and treaties. Former Article 282 of the EC Treaty conferred upon the EC “the most extensive legal capacity accorded to legal persons” under the national laws of the Member States. The EU did not have this status, and so strictly speaking we should have referred to ‘EC law’ and not to ‘EU law’ in most instances until December 2009.
Until November 1993, when the TEU came into force, the EU’s Official Journal (OJ) references were to ‘EEC’ law. After 1993 the OJ used ‘EC’. The OJ distinguished between EC laws and CFSP or Police/Judicial Cooperation Decisions, which were Second and Third Pillar (EU) instruments. For example, a Council Regulation was written as ‘Council Regulation (EC) 850/2005’ in the Official Journal; a Commission Directive was written as ‘Commission Directive 2005/37/EC’.
All these instruments are now EU instruments. Since the granting of “legal personality” to the EU under the Treaty of Lisbon, it is now technically and legally correct to refer to EU law and EU Treaties.

We still write those Directives and Regulations with ‘(EC)’ etc., but it seems that retrospectively they are all EU documents.

Via Jaanike Erne ideas on europe and Grahnlaw

LATER NOTE (June 2012) – perhaps this is clearer, from the UK parliament site:

9. The CJEU is the collective term for the European Union’s judicial arm,[8] but the single institution consists of three separate courts, each enjoying its own specific jurisdiction. Generally speaking the three courts’ jurisdictions are defined by the types of cases they hear or by the status of the litigant bringing the action and whilst the CJEU does not operate on a formally hierarchical framework like, for example, the UK court structure, it is nevertheless split into three tiers. Forming the upper tier is the Court of Justice (CJ) which was formerly known as the European Court of Justice (ECJ); beneath the CJ is the General Court (GC) which was formerly known as the Court of First Instance (CFI); and the third tier consists of the Civil Service Tribunal (CST), which in the words of the Treaty constitutes the EU’s single “specialised court”.[9] Francis Jacobs, former Advocate General at the Court of Justice and presently Professor of Law at King’s College London, considered this structure a good one.[10]

The term for the court as a whole is CJEU – the term ECJ used to be used both in this collective sense and to refer to the Court of Justice. Now, the collective abbreviation is CJEU and the Court of Justice abbreviation is CJ (sometimes ECJ, I imagine).

ALS and court interpreters / Gerichtsdolmetscherschlamassel in England

This story has been around since well before Christmas and no doubt all readers know about it. The British Ministry of Justice decided to save money on court interpreters and instead of taking interpreters from a national register it transferred all jobs to be dealt with by ALS (Applied Language Solutions), a translation and interpreting agency which offered very low rates. Travel expenses were all radically cut. It was one of those situations where an interpreter would be better off staying at home and working as a cleaner.

Channel 4 News had a summary of it recently: Court translation service in crisis after cost-cutting deal.

Around 1,000 interpreters have not been turning up to court because of the reduced pay and expenses offered by ALS. As a result, court hearings reliant on interpreters have been delayed or postponed, at a high cost to the MoJ and the taxpayer.

One of the most serious cases was at Leeds Crown Court on February 22, which led Judge Robert Bartfield to say: “Apart from the waste of time for the jurors, the distress caused to witnesses and the defendant himself, the cost of this now aborted trial is likely to run into thousands of pounds.” …

At Boston Magistrates court, on February 1, Channel 4 News was told that a Polish interpreter turned up to court wearing a hat and overalls and didn’t understand the solicitor when he said they needed to go down to the cells.

The following day at Basildon Magistrates Court, the interpreter did not know what an oath was. It emerged that this was her first time in court, and she was not familiar with the legal language or protocol.

I must admit that my hopes for sensible attitudes to and pay for court interpreting have always been low. But I did not expect the Ministry of Justice to shoot itself in the foot quite so badly that it looks as if the protesting interpreters may succeed in their wishes.

One could write masses on this, but let me just give a link to a couple of

Questions in parliament
. The government seems to take the view that the problems are ‘teething troubles’. Here the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State fails to answer the questions, but he does cite what steps ALS is taking to improve things:

Arranging additional interpreter assessment centres.

Recruitment of additional call handlers, booking administrators and linguist relationship managers.

Introduction of a new administrative team, purely with the function of issuing customer updates.

Secondment of a process management specialist, a management information specialist and an outbound calling team with the brief of further developing the supply of interpreters.

Improvements to the automated booking system.

I love the new job of ‘linguist relationship manager’.

The subject has even hit Mox’s Blog in a cartoon today.

One of the commenters there links to an article about a Czech interpreter who registered her pet rabbit as an interpreter with ALS.


Per Döhler and Thea Döhler have started a joint blog on translation and marketing called Triablog.

It has already built up quite a few articles in secret, but is only now officially launched.

Entries are in German, English or Swedish. There’s also an index, which is a very good idea, in addition to the categories. (I am unhappy with my own system of categories – some of the most useful older posts are unlikely to come to light again, and I have never got round to tagging all the entries imported from my original Movable Type blog). There are tags as well as categories, and there are categories and tags in the various languages, so I will stop thinking about how it all fits together – the main thing is that it’s easy to navigate.

Topics are translation, tax (Per is famous for his disquisition on German VAT), what’s going on in Barendorf and more. Here’s a recent post recommending we use the 24-hour clock in English, at least for European contexts:

In nearly all European countries, while the 12-hour clock may still be used in daily speech, you practically never see it in writing. Where there is an official standard, it calls for the 24-hour time format. But even in Britain (and in Ireland), you can see the 24-hour clock used in timetables, weather reports, in science, and in the military – and of course on the Internet. One may safely assume that there will no serious comprehension problems.

Conversely, changing English texts to reflect the 12-hour clock makes not only for untidy typography but also for potential confusion among all readers, not just those who are not used to seeing things like “12:00 pm” in print. (Incidentally, is that noon or midnight? Even educated native speakers of English are not sure on this issue.) If your schedule says 5:30 pm and the clock on the wall shows 17:20, can you still make it? That is easier to find out if you stay within one system – for the same reason, street names are usually left untranslated.*

The home page has the word Triablog superimposed on images of eight of their ‘summer offices’ abroad. In the ADÜ-Nord Infoblatt 5/2011 (under Publikationen at www.adue-nord.de) there is an article by Per and Thea describing how they combined work and holidays abroad in their summer office by moving everything abroad – to San Francisco, to Sydney, to Oxford, to Stockholm – every year since 1997, and they give suggestions on how to do this.

Happy reading!

Corpora in US courts/Der Corpus im Gericht

Mark Liberman at Language Log has once again, in two posts, discussed the use of corpora in US courts.

I’ve previously mentioned how translators might use a corpus to analyse specialist vocabulary. We do something a bit like that every time we use a search engine to see if an English term is used more in the UK, in US academia or maybe in Germany (could be Denglish). By using special software we can improve the quality of this kind of search.

But that’s not what interests me in the US court examples. What is interesting there is whether a judge can learn to get a better understanding of what words might mean than by just opening a dictionary. Because the understanding of language, particularly by German judges, has sometimes struck me as somewhat retarded. There may be hope in some parts of the USA, though.

The post Corpus linguistics in statutory interpretation (with links) discusses how Judge Posner determined the meaning of the word ‘to harbor’. Among other things, he did a Google search, which indicated that the verb implied sheltering someone, not just living with them.

The post An empirical path to plain legal meaning
links to a PDF file of an article by Stephen Mouritsen, “Hard Cases and Hard Data: Assessing Corpus Linguistics as an Empirical Path to Plain Meaning“:

This Article argues that the plain or ordinary meaning of a given term in a given context is an empirical matter that may be quantified through corpus-based methods. These methods, when applied to questions of legal ambiguity, present significant advantages over existing empirical approaches to plain meaning and over the prevailing intuition-based interpretive approach of many courts. Because large, sophisticated linguistic corpora are widely available and easy to use, and because corpus methods offer a more principled and systematic alternative to the impressionistic interpretation of legal texts, corpus linguistics may one day revolutionize the process of legal interpretation.

There are a number of rules of statutory interpretation in England and in the USA, as there are in Germany – the plain meaning rule is just one of them, and sometimes others override it. But it’s obviously true that ‘plain meaning’ will mean different things to different people.

The Language Log post also has links to a lot of earlier posts on this topic – I’ve linked to them before too. Mark adds an important corrective:

But it’s important to note that corpus-based methods, here as elsewhere, are a source of evidence for linguistic arguments, not a substitute for linguistic arguments. Without an understanding of the categories, structures, and interpretive issues involved in a given question, corpus evidence can lead you as far astray as dictionary quotations can.

It’s a difficult situation. Just as judges have traditionally decided whether someone was insane or had diminished responsibility in a legal sense, rather than in the opinion of psychologists, so I suppose the plain meaning of a statute provision has also traditionally been an amateur’s interpretation. Are these attitudes changing now?