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Translators shape legal milestone

Translators have played a crucial role in shaping an SA legal first.

The Legal Services Commission of SA has published – in ten languages – a summary of the State's key laws in a series of guides aimed at migrants. Never before have these SA legal publications been made available in so many different languages.

“We had to summarise the most important laws, present them in simple terms, and do so in ten languages; as you can imagine, this gave us some headaches!” said Commission legal education officer Kate Muslera.

“This was about more than simply translating language. It also included the challenge of conveying legal concepts which do not exist in some cultures. Fortunately, we worked closely with skilled translators who went beyond the semantic language to give life to the underlying legal purpose of the words.”

The Law For You guides are available in ten languages commonly spoken by new arrivals in South Australia (Arabic, Burmese, Chinese [Mandarin], Dari, English, Hindi, Persian, Swahili, Nepali and Vietnamese). They cover laws relating to common life events including renting a home, buying a car, getting married, raising a family, dealing with police and fines, separation and divorce, family violence, and purchasing goods or services.

Top judge highlights legal language barriers

The guides mirror the sentiments of Australia’s top judge – High Court Chief Justice Robert French AC – who has highlighted the legal hurdles facing migrants.

Earlier this year, Chief Justice French said “those involved in the administration of justice in various ways should ensure so far as they can that people are not disadvantaged in their access to or interaction with the justice system by reason of their culture.

“With the very significant shift in the composition of the Australian population and the many countries of origin from which Australians now come, the potential for misunderstanding and misinterpretation, by people of different cultures, concerning the working of the justice system and the potential for misunderstanding and misinterpretation of those people by those involved in the justice system is real.”

“The Law For You guides are free of legal jargon and are extremely practical,” says Commission Director Gabrielle Canny. “They directly address some of the concerns raised by Chief Justice French.

“The Commission provides legal advice to all South Australians - and that must include those for whom English is not their first language.”

Helping new migrants

The Legal Services Commission has a long history of working with translators and interpreters. It provides free legal advice services by phone and face to face. All members of the SA public can make an appointment to seek legal advice in person at the Commission’s offices, at no charge and with a professional interpreter present if required.

"One of the challenges was to work out the level of detail the guides contained,” said Commission legal education officer Kate Muslera. “As lawyers, we often seek to provide the most comprehensive legal outline to clients. But in this case, the challenge was to strip things back to the key points so that migrants would have an accessible overview that introduces them to key aspects of the law.”

The guides were produced using funding from the Law Foundation of SA. They were launched at a weekly gathering of Adelaide's Bhutanese community, one of SA's newest migrant groups.

The Law For You guides are available in electronic and hardcopy form through the Legal Services Commission of SA, which has offices around Adelaide. For further information, click here.

Translators applauded

“This successful project has attracted national attention – and we couldn’t have done it without the work of the expert translators involved,” said legal educator Kate Muslera.

“We were dealing with different languages, different legal concepts and different legal systems."

“The guides again demonstrate that translators are an essential – if not always sufficiently recognised - part of the justice system.”


Published: 14/01/2016