Cautionary tale about legal translation

The latest issue of the Hong Kong Law Journal includes some interesting comments from Justice Susan Kwan of the High Court of Hong Kong on legal translation and the development of the common law in the Chinese language in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Justice Kwan writes:

It can be said that the Chinese version of the Laws of Hong Kong is quite unreadable. … Each time I look up the Chinese version of a legislation, I would invariably read its English version as well to help me understand the meaning of the Chinese version and to reduce the chance of making mistakes. One can imagine the difficulty faced by those who can only read the Chinese version of the Laws of Hong Kong.

Statute law is just part of the laws in Hong Kong. The majority of the cases that constitute the common law are only written in English. In this important domain, those who have no legal knowledge or are not conversant in English would find their hands tied.

The Dilemma of Conducting Civil Litigation in Chinese – Conversant Either in Chinese or the Law But Not in Both.
Susan Kwan
41 Hong Kong Law Journal 325-326 (2011)

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One thought on “Cautionary tale about legal translation

  1. I think it’s a very good topic. Legal translation requires extra skills and solid knowledge background from the translator. The translator has to be familiar with the legal system and their terminologies in both source and target culture. In the case of Hong Kong law, it’s actually quite tricky because Chinese is used in Hong Kong while the legal system resembles the one in the UK. Therefore it is quite possible to produce awkward Chinese version of law. In this case, it needs the professional translators hired by the local government to translate all the legal terms into PROPER Chinese so that everything is readable and understandable.

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