Spanish English Translation, Interpreting and Language Consulting


Last time we saw that the presence of a translator’s official stamp and signature on a translation says nothing about the veracity of the source document. There can be occasions where provenance is not entirely certain, and this might be an issue. Now let’s see what that entails.

Certified copies of source documents

The digitised procedure described in part one is very convenient for anybody who has a scanner – or increasingly, a smart phone (yes, these days some people photograph their documents and SMS them to translators). But digitisation poses a difficulty. There are many computer literate people nowadays with access to image processing software (or even apps perhaps!). Accordingly there is no ironclad guarantee that a scanned ‘original’ has not undergone sophisticated manipulation.

While the majority of us operate in good faith, with items such as driver licences, identity documents and academic qualifications, even minor alterations can have major consequences. Under some circumstances the authority or institution for which a translation is intended might reasonably expect greater assurances about the source material, and ask for a certified copy of it. So how do you go about this?

Obtaining certified copies

The usual certification method is to take your document and a photocopy of it to an appropriate certifying person, normally a Justice of the Peace or ‘JP’. The JP compares your document and the copy, and if they both match then s/he certifies that the one is a true copy of the other. There is a fairly standard formula that goes something like:

 I certify that this is a true copy of a document sighted by me.

(JP name, signature, stamp, place, date)

This is fine if your material is in English, because it will presumably be understood by any official in Australia. Documents in other languages, particularly those using non-Roman scripts, are more problematic. If you take your own photocopy with you, a JP may not feel confident about making a proper comparison in an unfamiliar language and/or writing system. One option is to look for a JP within your language community; the other is to find one who can photocopy your document on site and then certify it as true (because s/he has truly copied it). Good places to look for JPs who can do photocopying include real estate agents and secretarial offices – but remember, although JPs must provide their witnessing service without charge, they will rightfully charge you a fee for doing any copying.

Justices of the Peace are not the only people who are qualified to certify copies. Magistrates, teachers, doctors, lawyers, dentists, engineers, accountants and other ‘pillar of the community’ professionals are normally acceptable as certifying persons (but check with the department or institution that wants the certified copy first).

The next instalment will explore that point a bit further. Meanwhile, you might like to look at a couple of sites and the various professions they list as being qualified to certify copies. You have, as they say, options!

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