Legal translation at the Court of Justice of the European Communities

Kari Liiri, Chef de division, Cour de Justice des CE


Multilingualism characterises the activities of the European Court of Justice. In reality the Court consists of three different courts of law: the Court of Justice, the Court of First Instance, and the Civil Service Tribunal. The following linguistic principles apply to all three courts.

The statutory basis is laid down in Regulation 1/58 determining the official languages on the European Communities. The rules of procedure of the Court of Justice govern questions concerning language use in proceedings before the Court. On the basis of these rules, a language of the case is determined to each action brought before the Court.

The starting point is that in direct actions the applicant has the right to choose one of the official languages to be used in proceedings. In preliminary ruling cases, the language of the case is always the language used in the respective national proceedings in which the language has been determined according to national provisions. The language of the case is used throughout the proceedings, and as for the judgement, only the version written in the language of the case is authentic.

In order to meet these linguistic requirements, the DG Translation of the Court, the Institution’s largest service comprising of almost half of the Court’s staff, is composed of lawyer-linguists each of whom has a law degree and a thorough knowledge of several official languages. All official languages are used as source languages as well as target languages. Therefore translations cover all possible combinations of the official languages.

The challenge in the everyday work of lawyer-linguists consists in performing comprehensive legal background research concerning the legal system of the Member State from which the text originates and comparing the legal notions and institutions with those of the Community legal order in order to finally produce a translation that not only reflects the original but is also accessible to the reader. All this takes place within strict deadlines and under significant time pressure.

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