Navigation path

Left navigation

Additional tools

Training sworn translators in French-speaking Belgium – what’s at stake and what are the challenges?

This post is also available in: Français (French)

by Patricia Kerres, Louvain School of Translation and Interpreting, UCLouvain

Justice is intrinsic to humanity

Lucien Émile Arnault, French dramatist, 1787-1863
© Shutterstock / Nicola Forenza

Human suffering, violence, war and conflict, injustice, depositions, legal proceedings, wiretapping, espionage and anti-terrorism, not to mention migration, mobility, globalisation, education, marriage ceremonies, naturalisation… the list goes on. These terms and many others highlight a reality that is often overlooked nowadays: the need for sworn translations (and interpreting) is rising inexorably in the West. While it has always been easy to find qualified sworn translators for the languages taught in Belgian universities and colleges, the demand for sworn translators working with what are regarded as rare languages in this part of the world means that the situation needs to be clarified and better organised. In fact, until the early 2000s, all someone had to do to be able to take an oath and practise the unprotected profession of sworn translator/interpreter was to provide the public prosecutor’s office in their place of residence with proof of proficiency in one of Belgium’s national languages and at least one other language and then submit to the necessary checks.

With the aim of increasing the quality of sworn translation and interpreting services (which the courts did not always differentiate between), particularly because of the importance of these services for the recipients, the Belgian Chamber of Translators and Interpreters (CBTI) created a Certificate in Legal Translation and Interpreting for its members a few years ago, as well as the Interact-J training course, specifically intended for sworn interpreters. The CBTI also organised sworn translation and interpreting examinations for people who could not provide proof of relevant university-level training. Later, under the then Minister of Justice, Koen Geens, the Law of 10 April 2014[1] established the minimum criteria for inclusion in the national register of sworn translators, interpreters and translator-interpreters (STIs). The register was initially provisional (intended for STIs already working and with a time limit of 30 November 2022) but is now definitive (listing everyone who can prove their competence, including successful completion of a course on legal knowledge for sworn translators and/or interpreters). As things stand at the moment, the directory, which differentiates between translators and interpreters by language combination, is available only to the judiciary and cannot yet be accessed by members of the public looking for an STI.

After this law was published in the Belgian Official Gazette in December 2014, the Federal Public Service for Justice contacted all Dutch and French-speaking universities[2] in Belgium that offer a Master’s degree in translation and interpreting to discuss the possibility of them organising a course on legal knowledge for sworn translators and/or interpreters. In the French Community of Belgium, the institutions concerned were UCLouvain, ULB, ULiège and UMons. These consultations resulted in the publication of a Royal Decree[3] (Belgian Official Gazette of 27 April 2018) setting out the minimum training programme for STIs and legal experts. On the basis of this Decree, the aforementioned French-speaking universities created a university certificate in legal knowledge for sworn translators and/or interpreters. This course is worth 10 credits and comprises 48 hours of training covering legal skills, sworn translation and/or interpreting skills and an understanding – in the technical sense – of the STI professional code of ethics[4]. The universities jointly determined the length, cost and teaching content of the course. In addition to the training modules stipulated in the Royal Decree, the universities had the academic freedom to add any modules they deemed useful for STI training purposes. The Decree did not provide for any specific language training and, given the variety of languages involved (Western European languages, but also Albanian, classical Arabic and its many dialects, Berber, Chinese, Czech, Farsi, Greek, Hungarian, Japanese, Kurdish, Lingala, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Turkish, Wolof, etc.), the universities agreed to teach the course in French, without requiring the candidates to take a language skills test.

The Faculty of Philosophy, Arts and Letters at UCLouvain naturally turned to the Louvain School of Translation and Interpreting (LSTI) to teach the Certificat interuniversitaire en connaissances juridiques pour le traducteur et/ou l’interprète juré (CTIJ – Interuniversity certificate in legal knowledge for sworn translators and/or interpreters), which is part of UCLouvain’s continuing education programme of part-time and evening courses. The term ‘interuniversity’ refers to the close collaboration between the Bachelor’s degree in Translation and Interpreting offered by the Université Saint-Louis – Bruxelles and the Master’s degrees in Translation and Interpreting offered by UCLouvain (formerly taught by the Institut libre Marie Haps). The teaching team therefore comprises lecturers from the law faculties of both universities, LSTI lecturers and experts from the business world. The course[5] is run twice a year over a period of five months and consists of the following modules:

LAW – 24 hrs (including legal terminology)

  • Overview of the Belgian legal system and sources of law
  • Judicial actors
  • Judicial system
  • Criminal procedure law and basic concepts of criminal law
  • Civil procedure law and basic concepts of civil law

SWORN TRANSLATION AND INTERPRETING – 20 hrs

  • Contexts in which translators, interpreters or translator-interpreters are involved in legal proceedings
  • Translation, interpreting and intercultural communication*
  • Non-violent communication*
  • How the register works and fee structure

PROFESSIONAL CODE OF ETHICS – 4 hrs

  • The code of ethics
  • Case analysis

At the Louvain School of Translation and Interpreting, the course was piloted in the spring of 2019. Since then, two sessions have been held each year (one per semester), attended by between 80 and 100 candidates. Initially, the course was intended exclusively for sworn translators and interpreters entered in the provisional register and for final-year master’s students. However, it soon became apparent that, since many STIs were no longer available because of this training requirement, the requesting parties – whoever they may be – would be faced with a shortage of STIs in particular language combinations. The Federal Public Service for Justice therefore decided that people who are not included in the provisional register and who wish to be on the basis of accreditation of their prior experience are eligible for the course. This has considerably broadened the range of candidates for the CTIJ, which now welcomes very diverse participants with a wide variety of language combinations: experienced sworn translators and interpreters, translators and interpreters looking to offer professional sworn services, multilingual lawyers, young graduates wishing to add another string to their bow, future graduates, but also people whose job (in Belgium or abroad) involves cross-linguistic or intercultural communication, or language transfer in the broadest sense of the term.

By the end of the provisional procedure, all translators and interpreters in possession of the CTIJ will have had the opportunity to submit an application to be included in the definitive register (subject to a positive background check, among other requirements) and to take an oath, and anyone requiring the services of an STI will be able to consult this register. To remain on the register, entrants will be required to earn continuing education credits. The Royal Decree establishing this obligation has not yet been published.

Leaving aside the challenge of organising a new course – made logistically even more difficult by the pandemic – we would like to highlight here the intellectual and cultural enrichment it provides, not only for those who have done the course but also for the multidisciplinary teaching team running the CTIJ.


[1] http://www.ejustice.just.fgov.be/mopdf/2014/12/19_2.pdf#Page9

[2] This article will focus on the situation in the French-speaking part of Belgium. The list of courses that meet the requirements set out in article 2 of the Royal Decree of 30 March 2018 is available on the website of the Federal Public Service for Justice:

https://justice.belgium.be/sites/default/files/downloads/Liste%20organismes%20formateurs%20formations%20juridiques%202021-10-05.pdf

[3] http://www.ejustice.just.fgov.be/cgi_loi/change_lg.pl?language=fr&la=F&cn=2018033029&table_name=loi

[4] https://www.ejustice.just.fgov.be/cgi/article_body.pl?language=fr&caller=summary&pub_date=17-05-31&numac=2017012202

[5] https://uclouvain.be/prog-2021-jure2fc-programme

*These two modules are not provided for in the Royal Decree

Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.