The UK legal system can appear complicated to an outsider, and presents challenges for anyone looking to do business in the UK when their first language isn’t English. In this post, we’re going to briefly introduce the UK legal system and examine the role and importance of translators in using and understanding legal documents.

One System and Many Sources: the Legal System in the UK

The UK consists of four countries: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, for anyone seeking to do business in the UK, there isn’t a single set of laws that covers all four countries. Similarly, there are four sources of law for the UK legal system insofar as they apply to the UK as a whole, or to England and Wales.

Four sources of law

At present, there are four main sources of UK law: legislation, such as Acts of Parliament; Common law, based on the decisions of judges in superior courts; European Union Law, and; the European Convention on Human Rights.

Distinguishing between types of law

As far as translation is concerned, there are two classifications of law that need to be considered: criminal law and civil law.

Criminal law refers to acts that are likely to damage society as a whole if left unchecked, such as theft, assault or littering, or matters of fraud or money laundering. These are the matters in which the relevant authorities are likely to be involved. The consequences of breaking criminal law are typically a fine and/or imprisonment.

Civil law refers to matters between private individuals, such as contracts, probates, employment and family affairs. While judges preside over these matters, police involvement is rare.

Where do translators get involved?

In order to safely and properly navigate in the UK legal system, a professional translator may be required to be able to understand documents that aren’t written in your primary language. This varies according to the needs of the individual, and whether you are dealing with criminal or civil law.

Translators can assist in correctly understanding the following, and more:

  • Contracts
  • Probates
  • Criminal charges
  • Criminal judgements

Why use professional translators?

The English language is full of nuances, which can lead to confusion when attempting to understand the UK legal system. Without the assistance of a professional translator, there is an increased likelihood of:

  • A wrongful conviction, as a result of misunderstanding charges or evidence
  • Damage to reputation, either by criminal charges or as a result of activity in a civil dispute
  • Financial loss, particularly in civil cases that rely on proper understanding of contracts and legal rights
  • Loss of life, in extreme circumstances

While these may seem hyperbolic in nature, the reality is that if someone attempts to navigate the UK legal system without a proper understanding of the laws affecting them, they can be placing themselves at avoidable risk.

What if you aren’t based in the UK?

Despite the possible effects of Brexit, the UK remains a centre for business and commerce. It is thus likely that an international business will enter at some point into a relationship with a UK entity. If English isn’t your first language, creating a contract that both parties can sign is a difficult task and can leave you vulnerable to additional expenses.

How can we help?

As well as being experts in into English translation, we truly care about the needs of our clients. Whether you need assistance with a foreign language lease, or translating your documents into English, feel free to get in touch.