What is a voto particular ?

Legal Spanish for Translators

Voto particular is a “separate opinion” offered by a judge in response to the majority opinion of his colleagues in a judgment in a given case. The expression is often thought to refer exclusively to a judge’s disagreement with his colleagues and thus has been rendered on many occasions as “dissenting opinion.” However, voto particular may also denote a “concurring opinion” in which a judge agrees with the majority opinion but for different reasons. This distinction is made in Spanish by differentiating between voto particular disidente (or) discrepante (dissenting opinion) and voto particular concurrente (concurring opinion).

In other respects, in the language of court decisions formular voto particular disidente (or) discrepante is simply “to dissent,” while formular voto particular concurrente is “to concur.” Adherirse is used to denote a judge’s “joining” another’s opinion: adherirse al voto particular disidente/discrepante o concurrente (“to join a dissenting or concurring opinion”). Thus, for example, voto particular concurrente que formula el Magistrado D. Luis López Guerra al que se adhiere el Magistrado D. Tomás S. Vives Antón would appear in English as “Judge Luis López Guerra, with whom Judge Tomás S. Vives joins, concurring.” Likewise, in English an expression such as “Justice White, with whom Justice Blackmun and Justice Stevens join, dissenting” denotes a voto particular disidente (or) discrepante formulado por el Magistrado White, al que se adhieren los Magistrados Blackmun y Stevens.

Don’t confuse “therefor” with “therefore”

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The term “therefor” often appears in legal texts and is frequently confused with “therefore,” even by native speakers of English. “Therefore” means “consequently,” “for that reason,” “hence,” etc.: “I think, therefore I am.” (Pienso, luego existo). In contrast, phrasal verbs formed with “for” and prepositional phrases containing “for” are sometimes alternately rendered in legal writing as “therefor,” meaning “for that,” “for it:” Thus, “the grounds for the decision” may be expressed as “the grounds therefor,” or the “price paid for necessaries” might appear later in a document as “the price paid therefor.” Likewise, “he qualified for a pension” may be rendered as “he qualified therefor,” “the search for evidence” as “the search therefor” and “liability for damages” as “liability therefor.”

Perhaps it should be noted that the spell checker of the world’s prevailing word processing software is totally ignorant of the existence of the English word “therefor” and will insist on changing “therefor” to “therefore” in any text that you may attempt to type.

Latinismos: venia

Latin for Lawyers

Venia, from the Latin meaning “grace,” “indulgence” or “favor” is frequently used in legal Spanish in at least two different contexts. When a lawyer in court addresses the judge asking for permission to proceed, he inevitably commences by saying “con la venia, Señoría” or “con la venia del Tribunal (or) de la Sala.” This corresponds to the English expression “May it please the Court,” a formalism dating from the early 17th century that is still used in many Anglo-American jurisdictions when lawyers commence their oral arguments, as well as in written briefs submitted for the judge’s consideration.

In Spain venia also denotes a lawyer’s agreement to transfer a case to another colleague. When a client changes lawyers, his newly-appointed counsel must solicitar la venia, asking that the case be transferred to him. Likewise, the former attorney is said to dar (or) conceder la venia, turning over all of the case documents to the new lawyer and pledging to cooperate with him to ensure that it is successfully prosecuted.

Read more here and here


When the Decano not a “Dean”

“Mistranslations?” includes examples of what I believe may be considered mistranslations that I have encountered over a twenty-five year period while working as a legal translator and teacher of legal English in Spain. Some may be actual mistranslations, while others are perhaps all-too-literal renderings of expressions that may have sufficiently close counterparts (“functional equivalents”) in the other language. Still others are translations that may simply not be accurate in the context in which they originally appeared.

decano ; juez decano; decanato ; juzgado decano

In academic contexts, decano can certainly be rendered as “dean,” as in the expression Decano de la Facultad de Derecho (“Dean of the Law School/Faculty of Law”). But decano has often been translated as “dean” in contexts in which this rendering is inappropriate. When referring to the head of a professional association in expressions such as Decano del Ilustre Colegio Notarial de Valencia and Decano del Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Madrid, “decano” refers to the “president” of those entities. In this context colegio denotes a “professional association,” rather than a “college,” and in English the head of a professional association is most often its “president,” rather than a “dean.” Thus the decanos mentioned above are respectively the “President of the Valencia Notaries Association” and the “President of the Madrid Bar Association.” Some of the prominent international notaries associations that have presidents as their head officer include the International Union of Latin Notaries, National Notary Association of America, the Notaries Society of England and Wales and the Council of the Notariats of the European Union. Likewise, the head of the major US bar associations such as the American Bar Association or the National Bar Association, as well as the heads of the state bar associations are all called “presidents,” rather than “deans.” In this context vice decano refers to a “vice president,” while decano accidental is “acting (or) interim president.”

Similarly, in the context of the organization of the Spanish judiciary, decanato does not refer to a “dean’s office,” “deanery,” or even a “senior court” or “court clerk’s office,” as the term has sometimes been mistranslated, but rather to a juzgado decano, the court that oversees administrative matters for all of the courts within a given judicial district. In that regard, although often translated as “senior judge,” the juez decano (or simply decano) who presides a decanato is not necessarily the “senior judge” in the district, i.e., the judge with the most seniority (antigüedad), which is more appropriately expressed in Spanish as el juez más antiguo. In large judicial districts where there are a number of courts, the juez decano is elected by his fellow judges on the “Judges Board (or) Committee” (Junta de Jueces) to oversee court operations and to provide centralized judicial services, (although, in effect, in smaller districts this job may automatically fall to the senior judge). In view of his duties, a juez decano may perhaps be considered the Spanish counterpart of the “Chief Judge” of US Federal District Courts (not to be confused with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), who likewise oversees court administration. Thus for US audiences decano or juez decano and decanato or juzgado decano might be translated respectively as “Chief Judge” and “office of the Chief Judge.” For other audiences, or if there is a risk of confusion with the Chief Justice, perhaps “judge/office in charge of court administration” would be an appropriate descriptive translation for the two concepts.

Legal Meanings of informe

legal words
In his 1963 work “The Language of the Law,” the eminent legal linguist David Mellinkoff observed that legal discourse often uses “common words with uncommon meanings.” Indeed, in both Spanish and English, common words and expressions often take on unexpected meanings when used in legal contexts, and there are many simple, seemingly inoffensive everyday words and expressions that can prompt translation mistakes if their special legal meanings are ignored.  In this section I include some of the presumably simple legal English expressions that my students and translation clients have found most puzzling, along with a selection of legal Spanish terms that may stump translators when initially entering the legal translation field.


In many legal contexts informe has its usual meaning of “report,” as in informe de gestión (management report), informe de auditoría (audit report), informe comercial (commercial report), informe de búsqueda (search report), informe sobre el estado de la técnica (prior art report) or informe (or dictamen) pericial (expert witness report).

But informe has a very special meaning in Spanish criminal procedure, referring to the closing statements or final oral argument offered at the end of certain criminal proceedings by the prosecutor (fiscal), defense attorneys (defensor del procesado, defensor del acusador particular y defensor del actor civil*) and the attorneys for the parties deemed to have incurred civil liability (personas civilmente responsables) during the commission of the offense. As provided for in article 734** of the Criminal Procedure Act (Ley de Enjuiciamiento Criminal), these closing statements should include, among others, a summation of the facts as found, a legal assessment of those facts to ascertain the offense committed and the extent of the accused’s participation (whether as principal or accomplice), mitigating or aggravating circumstances, if any, and a determination of any possible civil liability. Thus, in the context of criminal proceedings informe may be translated as “closing statements,” “final oral argument” or with a similar expression.

*For an explanation of the role of the actor civil in Spanish criminal proceedings see the previous post at https://rebeccajowers.com/2016/05/09/false-friends-4/

**En sus informes expondrán éstos los hechos que consideren probados en el juicio, su calificación legal, la participación que en ellos hayan tenido los procesados y la responsabilidad civil que hayan contraído los mismos u otras personas, así como las cosas que sean su objeto, o la cantidad en que deban ser reguladas cuando los informantes o sus representados ejerciten también la acción civil.

Terminology Sources: Glossary of Notarial Terms

Terminology Sources

Spanish-to-English translators are often called upon to translate a variety of notarial documents. An excellent source for understanding the terminology of notarially-recorded instruments and lots of basic Civil Law concepts is the Glosario de Términos Notariales available on the website of Spain’s Consejo General del Notariado at http://glosario.notariado.org/ .

The site also offers a series of folletos informativos covering many of the areas of private law in which notaries intervene: http://www.notariado.org/liferay/web/notariado/folletos-informativos .

And, finally, the Consejo publishes a searchable online magazine Escritura Pública featuring a variety of articles that seek to serve as a punto de encuentro entre este colectivo y el resto de la sociedad: http://www.notariado.org/liferay/web/notariado/publicaciones/publicaciones-periodicas/escritura-publica .



Capsule Vocabularies: Terminology of Spanish Judicial Decisions (2)


A previous blog post examined the difference between the principal types of Spanish judicial decisions (resoluciones judiciales): providencias, autos and sentencias. To complete this survey, here are some of the basic terms and expressions relating to judgments:

  • dictar sentencia—to render/hand down/give (E&W) judgment
  • tribunal sentenciador—adjudicating court; court rendering judgment
  • sentencia dictada en primera instancia—trial judgment
  • sentencia dictada en segunda instancia—appellate judgment; judgment on appeal
  • sentencia definitiva (recurrible)—final (appealable) judgment
  • sentencia firme (no recurrible)—final (unappealable) judgment; judgment that has become final
  • devenir firme; adquirir firmeza; pasar en autoridad de cosa juzgada; causar estado; causar ejecutoria—to become final (and unappealable)
  • la sentencia ha devenido firme, la sentencia ha adquirido firmeza—the judgment has become final
  • sentencia contra la que no cabe recurso alguno—judgment not subject to appeal
  • sentencia meramente procesal; sentencia de absolución en la instancia—judgment without a ruling on the merits
  • sentencia material; sentencia sobre el fondo—judgment on the merits
  • sentencia declaratoria—declaratory judgment
  • sentencia desestimatoria; sentencia absolutoria—judgment for the defendant (civil proceedings)
  • sentencia estimatoria—judgment for the plaintiff (civil proceedings)
  • sentencia de condena; sentencia condenatoria—judgment for the plaintiff (awarding relief to the plaintiff) (civil proceedings)**
  • condena dineraria; condena al pago de cantidad de dinero—money judgment (civil proceedings)
  • condenado—judgment debtor (civil proceedings)
  • condena no dineraria—non-money judgment (civil proceedings)
  • sentencia ultra petita/petitum—judgment granting more than the relief requested
  • sentencia infra petita/petitum—judgment granting less than the relief requested
  • sentencia extra petita/petitum—judgment granting something other than the relief requested

Source: Rebecca Jowers. Léxico temático de terminología jurídica español-inglés. Madrid: Tirant lo Blanch, 2015, pp. 158-159.

** See here for additional meanings of condena and condenado in the context of Spanish criminal proceedings.




Multiple Meanings of desistimiento

Legal Terms with Multiple Meanings

Although desistimiento generically denotes “withdrawal” or “abandonment,” the appropriate translation of the term in legal contexts depends on the practice area in which it is used. In criminal law, in the context of defining “criminal attempt” (tentativa de delito), desistimiento de la tentativa refers to a criminal perpetrator’s voluntary abandonment of or withdrawal from a crime before it is consummated (desistimiento voluntario antes de consumar el delito). In English this is often formally called “renunciation of criminal purpose.”

In contract law desistimiento de contrato likewise denotes the voluntary, often unilateral withdrawal from a contract (desistimiento unilateral), and in English this may be expressed as a “unilateral cancellation (or) termination of contract.” Likewise, the right to withdraw from or to unilaterally terminate a contract and cancel a purchase (called derecho de desistimiento) is a feature of Spanish consumer protection legislation (Real Decreto Legislativo 1/2007, por el que se aprueba el texto refundido de la Ley General para la defensa de los consumidores y usuarios).

In other contexts, desistimiento (del demandante) is likewise used in civil procedure to denote the plaintiff’s abandonment of a proceeding before a trial of the issues, which does not preclude future prosecution of the claim (declaración unilateral del actor por la que tiene por abandonado el proceso, sin que ello suponga renuncia a la acción). In many US jurisdictions this “abandonment of suit” is known as a “voluntary dismissal” of the action or claim.

For the difference between desistimiento and renuncia in civil proceedings see: https://rebeccajowers.com/2016/07/26/espanol-juridico-8/

Mistranslations(?): Why Derecho mercantil is “Business Law”

Is this really a mistranslation_
“Mistranslations?” includes examples of what I believe may be considered mistranslations that I have encountered over a twenty-five year period while working as a legal translator and teacher of legal English in Spain. Some may be actual mistranslations, while others are perhaps all-too-literal renderings of expressions that may have sufficiently close counterparts (“functional equivalents”) in the other language. Still others are translations that may simply not be accurate in the context in which they originally appeared.

One of my students recently asked me why I translate Derecho mercantil as “Business Law,” and why can’t the term be rendered literally as “Mercantile Law” or as “Commercial Law.” There is certainly no official translation for Derecho mercantil, and translations between different legal systems are never 100% equivalents, but in this case I believe “Business Law” is simply closer to the meaning of Derecho mercantil than the other two options.

In its strictest sense, “Mercantile Law” is often understood to refer to the “law merchant” or lex mercatoria, the system of customary law widely adopted in Europe during the Middle Ages.

“Commercial Law” is a narrower concept than Derecho mercantil. In England and Wales a course on commercial law may sometimes be limited to the study of the sale of goods (compraventa de mercancías), international sales (compraventa internacional), the law of agency (Derecho de agencia) and consumer credit (crédito al consumo). Likewise, in the US “commercial law” is often understood as being limited to those areas of law governed by the Uniform Commercial Code, including the sale of goods (compraventa de mercancías), negotiable instruments (títulos valores), bank deposits (depósitos bancarios) and secured transactions (operaciones garantizadas), among others.

And, finally, a quick look at the table of contents of any standard Spanish law school textbook on Derecho mercantil makes it clear that it is much broader than “commercial law,” and shares many of the disciplines studied in the US in business law courses. These include:

  • Derecho societario (corporate law or, in its broader meaning, law of business entities)
  • Contabilidad mercantil (business accounting)
  • Propiedad intelectual e industrial (intellectual property)
  • Derecho de la competencia (competition/anti-trust law)
  • Derecho de la competencia desleal (unfair competition law)
  • Derecho de la publicidad (advertising law)
  • Contratos mercantiles (commercial contracts)
  • Títulos valores (negotiable instruments)
  • Derecho del mercado de valores (securities markets law)
  • Derecho bancario (banking law)
  • Derecho de los seguros privados (insurance law)
  • Derecho concursal (insolvency law)

Español jurídico: Difference between emplazamiento and citación

Legal Spanish for Translators

A translator colleague recently asked me about the difference is between emplazamiento and citación, given that both generally refer to a “summons”. Well the answer is right there in the terms themselves. In an emplazamiento the recipient is given a term (plazo) in which to respond to the content of the summons. That’s why an emplazamiento is the document served with a complaint (escrito de demanda), since the defendant is given a legally-established term in which to file an answer (contestar a la demanda). In contrast, citación is generally a summons to appear in court (a “cita”), specifying the time and day that the recipient must comply. But unless a translation requires distinguishing between the two, they are both a “summons.”

Simple definitions of emplazamiento and citación appear in the Wolters Kluwer legal guides:

El emplazamiento junto con la citación son dos actos de comunicación de vital importancia, ya que son los actos de comunicación a través de los cuales el demandado va a poder entrar en el proceso, o bien personarse ante otra instancia. A diferencia de la citación en la que al demandado se le cita para que comparezca en un día concreto al juicio,… en el emplazamiento se le concede al demandado un plazo para que pueda personarse y contestar a la demanda presentada contra él.

Read more here