Precautions when Translating Contracts

I am currently doing a course on Spanish Law and there was an interesting discussion about the precautions that we should take as translators when translating contracts and where the limits of our competences lie. There are no hard and fast rules, but it is important to use judgement. Below are some of the points discussed.

Structure

The order of clauses and articles in Spanish contracts differs noticeably from the structure typically used in English ones. This raised the question of whether we as translators should ‘adapt’ the translation to the typical structure that the final reader is familiar with.

Whereas it would be acceptable to adapt the headings to the typical wording of a Spanish contract (‘Reunidos’ for ‘By and between’ or ‘Exponen’ for ‘Whereas’ or ‘Recitals’), going beyond that would mean exceeding our duties as translators.

Typos, omissions or wrong clause numbering

What happens if we spot something that is clearly wrong, like clauses wrongly numbered, typos or omissions? As translators, it is not our duty to correct.

If we change something that is not in the original text, we risk creating a ‘fiction’ and you would end up having two parties with two conflicting versions of the contract.

Which version prevails?

Something that can help in these cases are ‘prevailing language’ or ‘governing language’ clauses setting out which language prevails in the event of any conflict of interpretation.

In the absence thereof, the best course of action is to flag any issues or errors to the client or legal team (or any middlemen, if applicable), warning them of the potential conflicts that may result from getting those issues or errors fixed in the translated version.

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