Canada’s legal system, which divides courts into French and English-language cases, may need more official, legal translations to keep legal professionals across the country informed about decisions made in both languages.
As it stands, Quebec law allows local courts to use either French or English in their proceedings, according to an article in the Vancouver Sun.
Most Quebecois judges select French. However, official English translations (or even unofficial ones) are not required by law, and as a result are almost non-existent. This makes life extremely difficult for interested non-Quebecois attorneys who want to read about the proceedings, but have no recourse other than to seek translations from third parties. More often than not, Quebec rulings are ignored entirely by the rest of the Canadian law community, because the records are automatically assumed to be in French — even when they’re not.
Linguistic Handicaps and Legal Setbacks
Intentional or not, this kind of compartmentalization can hurt the Canadian legal profession. Imagine: a judge makes a landmark ruling in a case that could set a legal precedent for a dozen others, but it is largely ignored by the rest of the Canadian law community because the records are in French and therefore are deemed too much trouble to translate and read. How many cases could potentially have been affected by the above example? How many lives and careers could’ve been changed, but had not, because of this?
Admittedly, it is not just English-speaking lawyers who lack for translation. Canadian English-language cases are likewise rarely translated into French. But a great majority of Quebecois lawyers are bilingual, and they have little pressing need for an immediate legal translation. So the disparity is still there.
Lawyers can – and have – taken matters into their own hands. Some ask colleagues or friends to provide the translations for interesting cases. Others rely on well-meaning volunteers to provide translations for everyone else. But these options are limited by the fact that only certain, high-profile cases are translated, instead of all cases having an English version for lawyers to browse at their leisure.
And, of course, these amateur translations may not hold up in an English-speaking court, which may require a certified or court-sanctioned legal translation, not to mention that amateur translations may not contain the nuance or special legal vocabulary that a professional legal translation would contain.
Certified Legal Translations Get Official Rulings
If an English-speaking lawyer wants to make the best use of a Quebecois case, then he or she should use a professional legal translation service. Legal translation companies like Legal Language Services can even certify the translation.
Of course, the ideal resolution is that Canadian courts – both Quebecois and otherwise – provide court records in both official languages as a matter of course. Until then, legal professional may need to consider professional legal translation services on their own.