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Is remote interpretation before a notary possible in Spain?

Published on 22/09/2020

Let's imagine for a moment that a Belgian fellow we travels to a small rural village lost in the middle of Castilla la Mancha in Spain to spend his holidays. After spending two weeks there, he falls madly in love with the sunny village and its people, so he decides to buy a house. When he goes to the notary and wow... the notary speaks neither French nor Flemish. So what's next? Where is he going to find a translator lost in the middle of nowhere? Wouldn't it be great to be able to call in a translator who could do remote interpretation at the notary's office?

Our society is becoming more and more multilingual because of the continuous movement of people, whether for economic, political or lifestyle reasons, etc. Remote interpreting is now being imposed with a new model of interpretation that facilitates intercultural communication.

So we are talking about remote or teleinterpreting, as we can imagine, in the small village in Castilla la Mancha there are not many people who can speak Flemish or French. They will be even less likely to speak it and interpret it. So it's going to be difficult for our Belgian buyer to sign the sale documents for his house.

Anyway, as we shall see, we can always turn to a friend who can help us. First we should ask ourselves whether we really know what functions a notary performs and when we should go to him.

1. Functions performed by a notary

Functions performed by a notary

The notary in Spain is a person who is authorized to attest in accordance with the law and who can also advise us on the legal means of carrying out our processes. Its functions include, among others:

  • The drafting of original deeds that require the authorization of a notary.
  • The issuance of copies and writing of protocols.
  • The elaboration of contract designs.
  • The advice and the audit.

As we can see, the work of a notary includes many tasks, so we should not expect him to speak the language of all his clients. This is the job of translators, interpreters and translation agencies.

As we will see below, the documents that are handled by notaries' offices have a high degree of specialization. Therefore, we must use professionals with the same degree of specialization and experience to deal with this type of text.

2. Types of notarial documents

Types of notarial documents

Spanish notarial documents can be roughly divided into three categories according to their form and purpose:

  • Minutes
  • Deeds
  • Testimonials

It is a little difficult to see clearly the differences between one and the other without having previous knowledge or being used to working with this type of document on a daily basis. The good thing is that notarial documents often have similar structures that professional legal translators and interpreters are familiar with. This is why we insist so much on hiring a professional interpreting service, since many times, due to lack of knowledge, we turn to our friend who is probably not aware of the complexity, both grammatical and structural, that notarial documents can present.

3. The role of the interpreter in Spanish notaries' offices

The role of the interpreter in Spanish notaries' offices

When we talk about interpreting in notaries' offices, we understand that the notary reads a written document and requires the interpreter to interpret it consecutively or even arranges the document for the interpreter to do a translation at sight.

To this end, it is very important that our legal interpreter has a good knowledge of the documents he is dealing with. The client must be informed of each and every one of the clauses that are specified in his contract, inheritance, etc... and that he wishes to understand in depth.

The Regulations on the Organisation and Regime of the Notary's Office in Spain of Royal Decree 45/2007 of 19 January (art. 150) authorises the use of any person who claims to have knowledge of both languages, without the need to be officially qualified as an interpreter:

"Where the grantors, or any of them, do not have sufficient knowledge of the language in which the public instrument has been drawn up, and the Notary cannot himself communicate its contents, the intervention of a person designated for the purpose by the grantor who does not know the language shall be required, and this shall be expressed in the appearance and approval of the document, who shall make the necessary translations, declaring the conformity of the original with the translation and who shall also sign the public instrument"

In plain words, any person designated by the signatory can act as an interpreter before the notary. And to prove your knowledge, all you have to do is claim to know the language before the notary!

The Spanish legislators are only trying to be practical, but we keep repeating what we have already mentioned, to avoid headaches and regrets, it is best to use a professional interpreter.

I know, but what if there are no Belgian interpreters in my area and I can't afford to pay the travel expenses of the nearest interpreter who lives 200 km away? This is where remote interpretation comes in.

4. Is remote interpretation before a notary possible in Spain?

Remote interpretation

Bad news! No, remote interpretation before a notary is not possible today according to current legislation.

There are already some advances so that one day this type of interpretation may be possible. Notaries are now able to request a Notary Recognized Electronic Signature. However, this is not yet possible in the case of interpreters. So our Belgian friend will have to keep waiting for the Spanish legislation to adapt and it can give him an easy solution to his problem.

In the current system, the notary requires the physical presence of all the signatories of the document, including the interpreter. The audiovisual presence is not acceptable. This makes sense if we think that a person could be coerced into signing a document more easily if they are in a remote site. The public notary’s office, however, is a neutral field that helps to avoid these situations.

In any case, if the interpreters could sign the notarized documents electronically, the interpretation could also be done remotely. This means that the interpreter does not have to travel and the customer does not have to pay for the interpreter's travel expenses. This would provide a quality service at a reasonable price. It would avoid having to resort to people who are not qualified to perform this type of service.

Alternatively, you always have the option of hiring a professional legal translator or directly a translation company to do a translation of your contract. For an additional cost, you can even ask for an official translation (also called a sworn translation).

This saves you travel expenses and provides you with a professional translation of your contract or deed. So you can use your friend and breathe at ease.

Obviously, this is not the best solution, but it is the best option available to you until remote interpretation is enabled at the notary's office. It is true, that with the recent Covid-19 pandemic, the world is becoming increasingly digital, and this may speed up the implementation of a system that allows remote interpretation before a notary.

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Sonja Honke's picture
Sonja Honke

Sonja Honke has a degree in Translation and Interpretation from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and a Master's degree in Conference Interpretation from the University of Granada. A German national, she is also a native speaker of Spanish and Catalan and has a high level of French and English. She is a project manager with a passion for multilingual communication and cultural diversity.

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