Germany Rejects ISO Standard for Legal Translation

Legal Translation ISO Germany Rejection of Localization Standard and Translation Standard

Germany’s national organization for standardization has rejected the new ISO standard for legal translation, ISO 20771, published in April 2020.

The DIN Standards Committee Terminology said in a statement, “As the responsible DIN sub-committee, we rejected the adoption of ISO 20771:2020 into the German body of standards. The standard will therefore not appear as a DIN ISO standard and will not be published in German.” DIN (Deutsches Institut für Normung) is the German ISO-member body.

The DIN Committee further recommended that clients and language service providers (LSPs) “refrain from using this ISO standard in Germany and that certification companies do not offer certification according to this standard.”

ISO 20771 covers “legal translators, revisers and reviewers, best translation practices and the translation process directly affecting the quality and delivery of legal translation services.” It particularly applies to the legal translation service provided by an individual translator (e.g., core processes, professional development, training, etc., but excluding machine translation post-editing or interpreting services).

According to the same statement, the final draft of ISO 20771 was approved by the majority of the ISO committee “despite considerable unresolved differences of opinion among the currently 36 member countries involved.”

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ISO 20771 recommends procedures that contradict to official regulations applicable in Germany, the statement said, “in particular, the ‘signing off’ of all translations by the translator [that] can easily be misunderstood or even misused as a fake ‘certification of accuracy and completeness’ which may only be issued by a court-authorized translator.”

‘Distorts the Level Playing Field’

The ISO standard for translation services is, of course, ISO 17100 and it applies to LSPs, in-house translation units, and freelancers. According to the DIN Standards Committee Terminology (a.k.a. NAT or Normenausschuss Terminologie), “there is no objective reason whatsoever to define different requirements for translation services — regardless of the specialist field — for different types of translation service providers.”

The NAT pointed out that ISO 17100 can already be met by all types of providers within Germany as well as in other parts of the world. Therefore, what the new ISO 20771 standard does is to, basically, set a more stringent set of requirements for legal translation services.

“But why should such specific requirements only apply where the services are provided by freelance translation service providers?” the NAT asked, adding that “regardless of its intention, ISO 20771 can ultimately distort the level playing field promoted by ISO 17100 to the detriment of freelance legal translators.”

More Work, More Cost

According to an expert member of the Translation Services subcommittee of the NAT, the new ISO standard for legal translation fails to explain how it would work in conjunction with ISO 17100. “The coexistence of ISO 17100 and ISO 20771 with no clear determination of the relation between the two standards will almost certainly cause some confusion among customers,” Wolfram Baur told Slator.

Baur, who also advises the BDÜ’s Federal Executive Board on standards for translation services, further noted, “If the road of creating separate stand-alone standards for the different specialist fields is followed further, this might well lead to excessive certification demands.”

The rationale behind ISO 20771 has to do with the market trend toward specialist translations that, Baur explained, “has also led to some need to define special competence or process-related requirements for translation services in certain specialist fields.” As mentioned in a recent Slator article, for example, specialist fields such as legal translation involve the minutiae of a range of document types (SlatorPro) as broad and varied as the legal processes that require them.

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However, creating standalone standards for different specialist areas “could lead to a need to obtain certification to several different standards, which would involve a considerable amount of work and cost,” Baur said.

He recommends that, rather than creating separate domain-specific standards, it would make more sense to simply create annexes to ISO 17100 for translation services in specialist fields that go beyond existing requirements currently set out in the standard — for instance, in the legal or medical fields, or in technical documentation.

Christopher Kurz, Head of Translation Management at wind turbine manufacturer ENERCON, concurred, saying it would be better if ISO 17100 was “enriched by several appendices concerning the translation of specialized texts (legal, medical, audio-visual) in contrast to having several standalone specialist translation standards.”

Kurz is also an expert member of the NAT Translation Services subcommittee. He participated in the development of ISO 17100 and said that it already covers all basic aspects of specialized translations: “Strip the ISO 17100 content from the ISO 20771 and there is not much remaining. That’s why I am against stand-alone specialized translation standards in general.” ISO 17100 is currently undergoing its periodic review.