Professor Karen McAuliffe

Dr Karen McAuliffe

Birmingham Law School
Professor in Law and Language
Birmingham Fellow

Contact details

Birmingham Law School
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Professor McAuliffe’s principal area of research focuses on the relationship between law, language and translation in the EU legal order.  By clarifying the ways in which language plays a key role in determining judicial outcomes at the EU level, she challenges EU scholarship to look beyond more conventional approaches to the development of a rule of law that draw on law alone.  Her work is largely empirical, drawing on methodologies from fields such as sociology, anthropology, translation theory and linguistics.  She also draws upon theoretical literature concerning the relationship between law and language and considers the role of translation theory in that relationship within the EU legal order. 

In 2012 Professor McAuliffe was awarded a €1 million European Research Council Starting Grant to complete a significant project on ‘Law and Language at the European Court of Justice.  This research project not only has impact for understanding EU law at a meta-level, but also for the practical application of EU law across member states, and puts forward a new understanding of the development of EU law.  In 2015 she was awarded a further €150,000 Proof of Concept grant from the European Research Council, to develop a standardised, multidimensional and multilingual corpus of the case law of the European Court of Justice and of the constitutional/supreme courts of EU member states.  


  • PhD (The Queen’s University of Belfast)
  • Postgraduate Diploma in European Public Law (European Public Law Academy)
  • LLB in Common and Civil Law with French (The Queen’s University of Belfast and l’Université Catholique de Louvain)


Karen McAuliffe joined Birmingham Law School as a Reader and Birmingham Fellow in January 2016 from Exeter University, where she had held posts of lecturer and senior lecturer since 2007.  Prior to entering academia, she worked as a lawyer-linguist at the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg.  Karen’s main research interests and areas of expertise are in multilingual law production in the European Union; post-enlargement dynamics of law and language in EU institutions and the relationship between law, language and translation in the EU legal order.  She is currently working on a 5-year €1 million research project, funded by the European Research Council, on law and language at the Court of Justice of the European Union.  More information on that project can be found on the project website:

Dr McAuliffe is on the ESRC College of Reviewers and on the editorial board of a number of international peer-reviewed journals, including The International Journal for the Semiotics of Law; The International Journal for Law, Language and Discourse; The International Journal of Legal English and Language and Law/Linguagem e Direito.  She is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a member of the Society of Legal Scholars; International Language and Law Association; International Association of Forensic Linguistics; Multicultural Association of Law and Language; RELINE and a founder member of the Germanic Association of Forensic Linguistics.

Since 2011, Professor McAuliffe has been a visiting professor at the University of Luxembourg, where she teaches on the Masters in European Governance.  She has also previously held teaching positions in law and political science at The Queen’s University of Belfast and the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, as well as (short-term) visiting positions at iCourts Centre of Excellence for International Courts at the University of Copenhagen and Michigan State University College of Law, Doshisha University, Kyoto.  She regularly delivers talks and guest lectures at institutions around the world.

Postgraduate supervision

Professor McAuliffe is currently committed to work 100% of her time on the European Research Council project ‘Law and Language at the European Court of Justice’, but welcomes research proposals for future doctoral and postdoctoral research in the following areas:

  • The relationship between language and law
  • Multilingual legal systems
  • Legal translation/Institutional translation and its impact on law
  • Dynamics of language/culture/multilingualism in European Union Institutions

Proposals for empirical research projects and projects using interdisciplinary methodologies in those areas are particularly welcome.

Find out more - our PhD Law  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


Professor McAuliffe’s research focuses mainly on the field of law, language and translation in multilingual legal orders – in particular the EU and EU institutions.  She is also interested in the functioning of EU institutions, the relationship between law and language and the role and use of language within a legal system.  Her current research can be divided into three distinct areas:

  1. Post-enlargement dynamics of law and language in European Union Institutions
  2. The relationship between language, law and translation in the EU legal order
  3. Developmental social neuroscience, ethics and the law

Karen’s work is largely empirical and interdisciplinary, drawing on research methodologies from fields of sociology, anthropology, translation studies and linguistics to introduce new perspectives on the development of (EU) law.

Other activities

Dr McAuliffe also holds a visiting professorship at the University of Luxembourg.



Peer reviewed journals

  • McAuliffe, K, “Translating Ambiguity” Journal of Comparative Law 9(2) 2015
  • Williams, H, Cohen, M, Ramsbotham, D and McAuliffe, K “Traumatic Brain Injury and Juvenile Offending (Preface)” Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation 30(2) 2015
  • McAuliffe, K “The Limitations of a Multilingual Legal System International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 26(4) 2013
  • McAuliffe, K “Precedent at the ECJ: The Linguistic Aspect” Current Legal Issues 15 2013
  • McAuliffe, K “Hybrid Texts and Uniform Law? The Multilingual Case Law of the Court of Justice of the European Union” International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 24(1) 2011
  • McAuliffe, K “Enlargement at the European Court of Justice: Law, Language and Translation” European Law Journal 14(6) 2008

Book chapters

  • McAuliffe, K “Behind the Scenes at the Court of Justice: A Story of Process and People” in Davies B, and Nicola F (eds) EU Law Stories Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2016
  • Harmsen, R and McAuliffe, K “The European Courts” in Magone JM (ed) The Handbook of European Politics Routledge 2014
  • McAuliffe, K “Language and Law in the European Union: The Multilingual Jurisprudence of the ECJ” in Solan L, Tiersma P (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law Oxford: Oxford University Press 2012 (reprint edition 2015)
  • McAuliffe, K “Traduire le droit: une hybridité nécessaire en droit de l’Union européenne?” in Traduire les droits Liège, Belgium: Université de Liège 2012
  • McAuliffe, K “Language and the Institutional Dynamics of the Court of Justice of the European Communities: Lawyer-Linguists and the Production of a Multilingual Jurisprudence” in Gueldry M (ed) How Globalizing Professions Deal With National Languages: Studies in Cultural Conflict and Cooperation Lewiston, Queenstown, Lapeter: The Edwin Mellen Press 2010
  • McAuliffe, K “La traduction dans l’office des juges européens” in Bailleux A, Cartuyvels Y, Ost HDEF (eds) Traduction et droits européens: enjeux d’une rencontre Bruxelles: Facultés universitaires Saint Louis 2009
  • McAuliffe, K “Translation at the Court of Justice of the European Communities” in Stein D, Olsen F, Lorz A (eds) Translation Issues in Language and Law Palgrave Macmillan 2009
  • McAuliffe, K “Poder judicial y estado derecho en una sociedad en continuo cambio: la actuación del Tribunal de Justicia de las Communidades europeas” in Papanikolau BK, Papakonstantinou Z (eds) El rol de la judicature en un estado gobernado por la regla de la ley London: Esperia Publications Ltd 2006

Published reports

  • Williams H, McAuliffe K et al “Repairing Shattered Lives: brain injury and its implications for criminal justice” Barrow Cadbury Trust and Transition to Adulthood Alliance Report
  • McAuliffe, K “UK National Report on Religion and Public Law” European Review of Public Law 17 2005

View all publications in research portal


Relationship between law, language and translation in the EU legal order

Legal translation 

Translation in EU institutions

Language in EU institutions

Language and Law