Guide to Legal Translation Services in Singapore

Last updated on November 20, 2020

The letter "A" being translated to the Chinese character ”文“ and back again

If you are considering engaging legal translation services in Singapore as an individual or a business owner, this article will help you understand these services better. We will also explain how it differs from regular translation, as well as the process of legal translation – from choosing a service to what happens after engaging one.

Table of Contents

What Is Legal Translation?

Legal translation in Singapore involves the translation of documents to be used for legal purposes from any non-English language to English. Documents refer to words in writing and may also include pictures, sound-tracks, videos, screenshots of text messages and any other material that is capable of being interpreted.

This article will cover legal translation of 2 types of legal documents:

  1. Documents to be used for the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA), such as identity cards and immigration documents; and
  2. Documents that are to be received, filed or used in court.

How Does Legal Translation Work?

As English is the de facto main language used in Singapore and all court proceedings are conducted in English, legal documents that are not fully in English have to be translated into English.

You or your law firm may choose to engage in the legal translation service of the court that the document is to be received, filed or used in. Requests for translation may be made at the court that the document is required in, and a court interpreter will translate and certify the translated document.

Alternatively, you may approach private translation services to have your legal documents translated to English. We will discuss how to choose a private legal translation service and the process of legal translation below.

How Is Legal Translation Different From Regular Translation?

Legal translation involves the translation of legal documents. These documents include contracts, laws and regulations, notarisations, certifications, and documents to be used in court proceedings.

Legal documents often contain legal jargon that may be difficult to translate accurately unless the translator is experienced in handling such terminology. Hence, only court interpreters and qualified persons may translate legal documents. Qualified persons refer to private translators with the relevant language proficiencies and who have experience translating legal documents.

Regular translation, however, is for private matters of any kind, and thus does not require the translator to have special expertise on the translation of technical legal terminology. Regular translation can range from the translation of poetry to the translation of school certificates, medical reports and annual reports, as long as these documents are not to be used in any court proceeding or for any legal matter.

If you have a document that is not fully in English and that is to be received, filed or used in a court proceeding, you would need to engage in a legal translation service to have it translated to English.

However, if you have a legal document that is not in English and is not required by the court, it is not a must for you to have it translated. Examples of such documents include documents in the pre-trial stage, like those obtained during the discovery stage of a trial.

It is not required to obtain a translated version of documents not needed for court use because the discovery stage involves the exchange and disclosure of documentary evidence between parties on issues in the trial, but this does not necessarily lead to the usage of the documents in court.

Choosing Between Court Translators and Private Legal Translators

Compared to private legal translators, you would generally not have to worry about the qualifications or expertise of court translators as they are employed by the courts. However, not everyone is eligible for the court translation services.

This is because legal translation services at the courts for documents to be used in court proceedings are only available for translation of documents from Chinese, Malay or Tamil to English. Therefore, if you are required to translate your document from any other language to English, you may wish to engage the services of private legal translation services.

The courts may also decline any translation request for any reason. Such reasons include a translation request being made at too short notice, or because the document contains specialised technical terms.

In such circumstances, a private legal translator may be a better option. However, note that if your source text is deemed illegible, your translation request may be rejected by both court and private legal translators.

If you are unable to use a court translator for your legal documents, you can engage a private legal translator instead.

How to Choose a Private Legal Translation Service in Singapore

Qualifications and experience of the translator

In general, you should choose a legal translation service where the translator has the required expertise. This is to avoid costly mistranslation mistakes.

However, the Rules of Court and Supreme Court Practice Directions do not state what qualifications private translators are required to have in order to be qualified to translate documents for use in court proceedings. Therefore, it is up to your discretion as to whether the legal translator you are considering is qualified to do legal translation.

Also, be aware that it is possible for the qualifications of private translators, as well as the accuracy of the translation, to be a point of contention among parties in dispute. In this case, expert witnesses may be required to provide clarity on the meaning of words in the original text.

If the document is not accepted by the court of Singapore or the authority that you are submitting your document to, you may need to obtain another translation.

When choosing a legal translator, you are advised to determine how established the company is based on their experience, and to read through customer reviews before making your decision.

Language of original document to be translated

Do enquire if the private translator is experienced in performing translations for the particular language you seek to a translation of. Some private translation services may translate only a more limited range of languages.

Estimated completion time for translation

The estimated time required for translation varies among the different private translation companies, and you should contact them to ask about this. More details on the possible timelines are provided below.

Price of translation services

Another factor influencing your decision when choosing a private translator could be the price of translation services. The cost of private translation services differs among the different providers. It is best that you contact the companies providing private translation services directly to request for a quotation on the fee payable. The fee may depend on the following factors:

  • Language of the original document;
  • Number of words or pages to be translated;
  • Whether there are any technical terms; and
  • Whether the private translator charges a minimum fee.

You should also factor in the cost of notarisation for documents that require notarisation from a notary public. Such documents include documents to be submitted to the ICA.

What Happens When You Engage a Legal Translation Service?

Engaging a court translator

You may decide to use the translation services made available at the Singapore courts by court interpreters, who will then translate and certify the documents for use in court.

For civil proceedings in the State Courts, either you or your law firm may request for translation services under the State Courts via e-Litigation. If you have not engaged a lawyer, you may approach CrimsonLogic’s Customer Service Bureaus for assistance with using e-Litigation.

If you are using the Supreme Court’s translation services for proceedings in the Supreme Court, your law firm can apply using this e-form. If you have not engaged a lawyer, you may directly contact the Head Interpreters at the following numbers to make a request for translation:

  • Head Interpreter (Chinese): 6557 7637
  • Head Interpreter (Indian): 6332 3930
  • Head Interpreter (Malay): 6332 3970

You must provide the reference numbers for your legal case at the time of making the translation request. The court will provide translation services only for documents to be used in court proceedings instead of documents meant for private use, even if the document to be translated is a legal document.

For translation of documents to be used in proceedings in the Family Justice Courts (FJC), you should approach Counter 10 at the Registry located at level 1 of the FJC, 3 Havelock Square, Singapore 059725.

For legal translation services all three courts (i.e. State Courts, Supreme Court or Family Justice Courts), your request should be made at least 4 weeks before the date that the translated documents are required.

Depending on the complexity of the documents, the timeline of completion is at least 4 weeks or more for the courts’ translation services. The fee payable for a certified translation by an interpreter of either the State Courts, Supreme Court or FJC is a standard fee of $45.00 per translated page.

Engaging a qualified private translator

You may choose a private translation service to have your legal document translated. Generally, private translators would start work after the payment has been made, but you should check with the translator on the exact timeline for the translated document to be delivered.

The timeline could range from same-day delivery of the translated document to 2-3 days or even slightly more than a week, depending on the complexity of the translation and number of words to be translated. Some private translators may also send you a draft translation for review before delivering the final translated document.

For legal documents to be received, filed or used in court, the translation provided from a private translator must be verified by an affidavit made by him or her. This affidavit must accompany the original and translated documents when the original document is received, filed or used in court.

As for legal documents not used in court, after you have obtained your translated document from a private translator, notarisation may be required by the party receiving your document. In particular, ICA requires documents to be translated by a certified translator with an approved seal and signature. These documents would then have to be notarised by a notary public.

Furthermore, since 1 October 2019, all notarised documents must also be authenticated by the Singapore Academy of Law (SAL) which can be done at the SAL counter.

We hope that this article has been helpful in helping you understand the processes involved in the translation of legal documents. In summary, for documents that are not originally in English, it is necessary for you to have your document translated to English if they are to be received, filed in or used in court proceedings. This may be done at the court that the proceedings are to be conducted in, or through a qualified private translator.

The factors we have mentioned in choosing the appropriate translation service should be kept in mind, such as the language of the original document, the timeline of completion and the price of the service, among other things.

For legal documents that are not required by the court, you may wish to have your document translated by a qualified private translator. You should also be aware of the possible notarisation requirements for your document.