Legal translation is arguably the most complicated and most important of all types of translation. Mistranslation of a single word or sentence always imposes material impact on court judgement. In Hong Kong, it used to be the non-Chinese who served as judges back in the 20th century. As non-Chinese speakers, they had to rely on translated versions for perusal of documentary evidence. Therefore, translation was always the critical factor which affected court judgement. A case is provided below as an example:

Fu Chuen Sang and another v. Cheung Ching Tak and Others (1961)


This is a case about dispute over an estate between the deceased’s wife and son. The late husband had made a will during his living days intending to allocate (撥交) his estate to his wife after his death. His son, however, considered that the term ‘allocate’ which his father used should only be interpreted as putting the estate under his mother’s ‘custody’ on his behalf without the meaning of ‘giving’ the estate to his mother. Therefore, the English translation of the Chinese term ‘撥交’ was the critical factor which affected court judgement.

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