How to become a sworn translator-interpreter?

How do I become a sworn translator? Not many people know this, but the procedure for becoming a sworn translator-interpreter is not difficult. In fact, it's easy to do.

In theory, all you have to do is fill in an initial application form with the Court of Appeal in your region, send it to the Public Prosecutor and wait for a decision. You can obtain this application form on the website of the Court of Appeal in your département or region. If the decision is favourable, you will be asked to take an oath and you will be entered on the list of legal experts for the Court of Appeal concerned. You will then be free to work as a sworn translator-interpreter.

However, while the application procedure is relatively straightforward, decisions on who to admit are based on exacting criteria. That doesn't mean you can't try your luck.

In this article, we'll explain how to put together a solid application and the steps you need to take if you want to submit your application.

What does a sworn translator-interpreter do?

A sworn translator is a professional translator whose expertise is recognised by the State. He or she is authorised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a ministerial officer.

Its mission is to provide translation services to the State's administrative, regulatory and legal institutions. These services may include oral translations (interpreting) or written translations for investigations, police custody, hearings, file translations and any other service requiring an oral or written translation from a source language into French.

In addition, as a sworn translator-interpreter, he can also offer his services to the public. He or she is the only person who can certify that a translation conforms to the original. This is why a sworn translator is called in to translate official documents such as driving licences, marriage or divorce certificates, judgements, notarial deeds, etc.

A translation is certified or sworn by affixing the translator's stamp, signature and a unique number to both the translation and the original.

Two key criteria: skills and experience

Although it is true that sworn translators do not need a diploma to practise their profession, a translator wishing to apply to a Court of Appeal must be able to provide solid proof of his or her competence in the field of translation.

However, competence is not the only criterion required. In addition to competence, it is also important to demonstrate experience in translation. So the two essential criteria for applying are: 1) competence and 2) experience.

Although diplomas are important and play a crucial role in the credibility of your application, proof of your translation experience is just as important. If you have worked for translation agencies, sworn translators or authorities such as the police or gendarmerie, your application will have a good chance of being accepted.

If this is the case, it is important to ask for letters of recommendation from your colleagues and to present your requisitions or certificates of engagement.

If you haven't yet proved your experience, you can start looking for professionals now and offer them your services. If your language skills are rare, you can also offer your services to the gendarmerie or the police, even if you are not yet sworn in.

Judicial authorities often have difficulty finding available translators or interpreters for rare languages. This is why they can call on freelance translators. This will enable you to gain solid experience and, above all, be able to provide consistent evidence for your application.

In short, your application must include solid evidence of your skills and experience. So don't hesitate to provide any document that can demonstrate your intellectual abilities in this field.

Which language should I choose?

You may be fluent in several languages in addition to French and have all the skills needed to apply as a sworn translator. However, if you are applying for the first time, it is advisable to choose just one language, and preferably the one you know best.

A complete application for a specific language is more likely to be accepted than one comprising several applications for different languages.

Firstly, because it is normal not to be able to provide the same evidence of your skills for each language. If the evidence to support your application for one language is weaker than for another, this is likely to affect your application as a whole.

What's more, some languages may be rarer than others. For example, English is not a rare language and there are a large number of sworn translators for this language. If you are proficient in a language such as Korean, where the number of sworn translators is smaller, it is preferable to support your request for this language, as translators are in the minority and in great demand.

It is therefore not advisable to apply for a common language such as English in addition to this rare language, even if you have a perfect command of it, especially for an initial application.

So if you are fluent in several languages, it is advisable to concentrate on a specific language for your first application. Once your application has been accepted, you will be able to support other languages for future applications, which will then carry more weight as you will already be a sworn translator.

Duration of the registration procedure

Generally speaking, the application procedure is fairly lengthy. You must submit your application before 1 March each year.

The police then carry out a character investigation to check that you have no criminal record. You may be summoned for further information.

Decisions are generally taken around mid-November and you will be informed at the end of the year, around mid-December.

Taking the oath

If your application is accepted, you will be summoned by the Court of Appeal in your region to take the oath. You will then be entered on the list of legal experts at the Court of Appeal in your place of residence as a sworn translator.

Initial registration on a Court of Appeal list is made on a probationary basis for a period of three years. At the end of this period, your legal experience and knowledge will be assessed. After these three years, you will have to reapply for a further five years.

Is it easy?

Every year, a large number of applications are submitted, but only a few are accepted. It is therefore possible that your first application will be rejected. Don't be discouraged and don't pin all your hopes on your first attempt, even if it might be accepted.

In general, successful applications are those that have been submitted several times. So keep submitting your application every year until it is finally accepted.

Recourse in the event of refusal

If your application has been unsuccessful and you feel that the reasons given have not been considered objectively, the law allows you to appeal to the Court of Cassation.

Article 20 of Decree No. 2004-1463 of 23 December 2004 on experts, amended by Decree No. 2017-892 of 6 May 2017, Article 32 states:

"An appeal may be lodged with the Court of Cassation against decisions to register or re-register and decisions to refuse registration or re-registration taken by the authority responsible for drawing up the lists, as well as decisions to withdraw registration taken by the first president of the Court of Appeal or the first president of the Court of Cassation. Such appeals must state the reasons on pain of inadmissibility. It must be lodged within one month by declaration to the clerk's office of the Cour de cassation or by registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt sent to the clerk's office of the Cour de cassation. The period runs, with regard to the Public Prosecutor, from the day of notification of the minutes establishing the list of experts and, with regard to the expert, from the day of notification of the decision to refuse registration or re-registration that concerns him by registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt. The expert is notified of decisions to register or re-register by any means.

Please note, however, that this appeal must not be made to the Court of Appeal that handed down the decision, or to any other court, but only to the Cour de Cassation, within 30 days of receiving notification of the refusal.

It is advisable to exercise your right of appeal, especially if you consider that your registration file contained all the elements required to qualify as a judicial expert.

You can also include other elements in your appeal file to strengthen your case.