Hungary Cuts Red Tape for Translators and Language Service Providers

A new law which took effect in Hungary on January 1, 2018 is ending the state monopoly on attested (or certified) translations.

Article 62 of the Act CXXX of 2016 on the Code of Civil Procedure states that “if translation is necessary, simple translation may be applied, unless provided otherwise by law, a binding legal act of the European Union, or an international convention. If any doubt arises concerning the accuracy or completeness of the translated text, certified translation shall be applied.”

Until the passage of the new ruling, the Hungarian Office for Translation and Attestation Ltd. (Országos Fordító és Fordításhitelesítő Iroda Zrt. or OFFI) is the only organization that can issue attested translations that will be accepted by all courts and all public administration authorities.

Established in 1869 as the Central Translation Department, OFFI became a state-owned enterprise in 1945, offering attested translation, attestation of translations, and making attested copies of foreign language source documents. It is also in charge of providing interpretation for courts, prosecutor’s offices and investigative authorities as well as technical translation and revision service, according to its website.

Benigna Quirin, Head of Cabinet, OFFI, affirms that “in lawsuits filed after January 1, 2018, translations of documents submitted to courts can be filed as ‘simple’ technical translations prepared either by the OFFI or other translation agencies.”

However, she clarifies that “courts may order the submission of attested translation if suspicions arise as to the correctness or completeness of a translated text. In such cases when courts rule that attested translation is needed, translations shall be done by those authorized for such activity pursuant to law.”  

Quirin says OFFI also do non-attested technical translations for any client, beyond its duty to provide attested translations. Moreover, the legal provisions on translators’ qualification requirements have not changed.

“In all cases, only the translations prepared by duly qualified technical translators may be filed with the courts. The central sectoral control of technical translation and interpreting activity is carried out by the Minister of Justice. This control activity shall cover all technical translation and interpreting activity irrespectively of the organizational framework or organizational subordination in which the body or person carrying out the activity operates. These rules continue to remain important quality guarantees for evidence procedures in lawsuits,” she explains.

LSPs Welcome Change

The new ruling was generally welcomed by the translation community, which expects a broader set of reforms to follow.

The Association of Professional Language Service Providers (Proford), the trade advocacy body of professional language service providers (LSP) in Hungary, has lobbied for the change in the regulations of certified translation for years.

The organization has earlier released a 250-page white paper, a joint project with two other freelance translator associations, containing a comprehensive proposal for the entire Hungarian translation community, which is expected to benefit LSPs and freelancers alike.

“Our proposal serves the interest above all of the buyers of certified translation services (corporations, private persons and government buyers) because translation will become faster, cheaper and of better quality thanks to competition,” says Miklos Ban, Chairman, Proford.

Proford estimates that with the new ruling in place, certified translations could be 28% to 68% less expensive to buyers, while registered certified translators’ rates may hike 60% to 100%.

Péter Lepahin, General Director of Hunnect, one of the big LSPs in Hungary, agrees that the current change is only a small first step in a much-anticipated liberalization process.

“LSPs are very positive about this change. Buyers of translations can also be happy as the open competition will necessarily bring more affordable prices,” he says, explaining that most Hungarian agencies offer “official” translation to distinguish it from the state-attested translation.

“These are widely accepted abroad and in some Hungarian organizations, but mostly not accepted by Hungarian courts and administration bodies. So often times, even a simple ID card or a Certificate of Marriage has to be translated by OFFI and is not allowed to be translated by a translation company,” he says.

“LSPs are very positive about this change. Buyers of translations can also be happy as the open competition will necessarily bring more affordable prices” — Péter Lepahin, General Director, Hunnect

However, under the new law, private or legal entities involved in civil proceedings can now choose to turn to any LSP for translation of the necessary foreign language documents, while formerly they could only use the “attested translations” made by OFFI.

“I do not think quality will get lower, as “simple translation” still means that the translation is carried out by a professional translator or a translation company,” he adds.

Nenad Andricsek, Founder and CEO of MiniTPMS, a startup company that offers translation management system for small LSPs, says the new law is currently a small win but “it shows movement in a positive direction.”

“Now is the time when we, LSP owners and managers, should combine our strength and work harder on bringing even more of the market prices, quality, and speed to translation buyers,” he says.  

Opportunity for Freelancers

András Szalay-Berzeviczy, Managing Director of Budapest-based LSP TranzPress and ​Leader of the Proford-MFTE-SZOFT Working Group for Legal Reform of the Hungarian Translation and Interpreting Regulations, says the new law is also highly welcome in the circle of Hungarian freelance translators since it entitles them to translate in the course of civil proceedings.

“Also, it sends the positive message that the Hungarian legislator has understood the EU legislation trend: less need for certified translations to cut the red tape and a more mobile, cross-border service-providing scheme of attested translations to make translations cheaper and faster for the EU citizens, corporates and public institutes,” he says.

Proford estimates the professional translation marketplace in Hungary to be worth roughly EUR 30m (USD 36.7m).

Ban says the supply side is highly fragmented, with over 3,000 legal entities listing their main activity as translation. “At least 90% of these entities are freelance translators who had to incorporate in order to be able to invoice. We estimate that there are approximately 200 companies with at least one full-time employee,” he shares.

Proford currently has some 20 member companies, mostly the larger, professional LSPs whose revenues account for approximately one-third of the entire market. The rest is distributed between OFFI and many small players: small LSPs and individual translators,” according to Ban.

“We estimate that there are approximately 200 companies with at least one full-time employee” — Miklos Ban, Chairman, Association of Professional Language Service Providers (Proford)

Szalay-Berzeviczy stressed that translation service providers will not stop supplying high-quality translations because the courts order less certified documents. “Qualification, experience, terminology awareness and quality assured translation workflow will continue to be the most important criteria for quality in the future,” he said.

Industry Outlook

Under the Proford-MFTE-SZOFT proposal, LSPs should be able to sell certified translation through registered certified translator employees (in-house translators), or buying the services of registered certified translator freelancers.

“The white paper also includes an international best practice overview and a detailed case study of the German model, which we consider closest to the solution we recommend to the Hungarian Parliament. We also created a list of all laws that would be affected by the change as well as a detailed financial and economic impact study,” Ban explains.

As Proford sees it, the need for reliable translation by companies and public institutions are rapidly increasing, partly due to migration issues. Moreover, the European Union seeks to ease administrative burdens on citizens and businesses and help cross border trade and flow of information to achieve a single market, according to Ban.