Legal Translation: How to Translate Law without Laws

In his chapter on legal translation in the Oxford Handbook of Translation Studies, Leon characterised legal translation theory as "stretch and snap". Like an elastic band tethered to the pole of literalism, the theory permits a degree of freedom by the legal translator—but should the band go too far, it snaps back to the default position of linguistic fidelity. In the general debate over the ‘degree of freedom’ the translator enjoys in conveying the meaning of the text, legal translation theory has reached its own settlement. Passivity is the default; creativity, the ‘qualified’ exception.

In this session, Leon revises and updates his criticisms of this 'stretch and snap' theory. Drawing on complexity theory, he argues that translators, much like lawyers, confront their task within a problem "space". Just as legal problems involve considerations beyond the client and the other side, translation involves more than merely transporting words from one language to the other. Law is a living language. Context matters. By rejecting rule-based approaches to translation, Leon re-asserts the importance of informed creativity to the work of legal translators.