At this meeting members heard about the challenges and successes involved in producing clear legislation at this European institution, from Charles Hagon, Head of Legal Revision Central Banking Section. A summary from the meeting is included below.

Charles Hagon, an English solicitor and lawyer-linguist, speaks 8 languages and was Head of the Legal Revision (Central Banking) Section at the European Central Bank until August this year. He told us about the challenges and successes involved in producing clear legislation in 23 official EU languages. Among the points to emerge in the talk and discussion were:

  • Wine-making - Charles compared the legislative process to wine-making; both demand planning, skill, patience, attention to detail, management and co-ordination. The result can vary from vin ordinaire to the finest vintages.  This raises the question, though; how drinkable is an EU blended wine?
  • Multilingual drafting - When a draft legal act is still at an early stage, getting a first translation into a variety of languages can reveal translation difficulties and help prevent them in the final draft. This helps to ensure that the final version is consistent across all languages and avoid using national legal concepts that don’t translate well into other languages or legal systems.
  • Briefing the lawyer-linguists - The translation process often includes a briefing meeting for lawyer-linguists. They need to know the background to produce a good translation of the legislation.
  • Translating into the native language - At the ECB, lawyer-linguists and translators as a rule only translate into their native language. Only on rare occasions is reverse translation necessary and then only for internal communication purposes.
  • Guidance for legislators - The ECB lawyer-linguists have to ensure that ECB legislation complies with the Joint Practical Guide for the drafting of Community legislation. They also rely on national guidance, as well as the EU’s Interinstitutional Style Guide and an ECB Institutional Style Guide.
  • Recruiting lawyer-linguists - The ECB employs at least one lawyer-linguist to cover each EU language – more, for the most-used languages. Each is legally qualified and also either qualified or very experienced as a legal translator. The ECB also uses freelance contractors to deal with short-term needs.
  • Who wins arguments between the editor and the drafter? - Editors need to be persuasive, maintain credibility and ask good questions. The drafters are obliged to answer their questions, especially on the early drafts. If a point is raised early enough in the drafting process, and the drafter is convinced it’s correct, the drafter will most likely agree to take it. But the whole process is one of negotiation and, sometimes, compromise.

As usual, we thank the City Remembrancer’s office in the City of London for generously hosting the meeting and breakfast at the Guildhall.