Mistranslations: Consejo Europeo; Consejo de Europa

“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.

Consejo Europeo–European Council

Consejo de Europa–Council of Europe

These institutions are sometimes confused in translation, Consejo Europeo often being mistranslated as “Council of Europe,” rather than as “European Council,” even in academic publications. Examples I have encountered include mistranslating Directiva xxxx/xx CE del Parlamento Europeo y del Consejo Europeo as “EC Directive xxxx/xx of the European Parliament and the Council of Europe,” or rendering the expression “cuando el Consejo Europeo empiece a adoptar medidas en codecisión con el Parlamento…” incorrectly as “when the Council of Europe begins to adopt codecision procedures with the Parliament…”.

Likewise, in the other direction, “Council of Europe” has often been confused with Consejo Europeo when translating, for example, “Council of Europe Committee of Ministers” as Comité de Ministros del Consejo Europeo (rather than Comité de Ministros del Consejo de Europa) or rendering “Publication of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg” as Publicación del Consejo Europeo de Estrasburgo. And an article entitled “The Limited Powers of the European Parliament and the Council of Europe” most likely intended to address the limited powers of the European Parliament and the European Council.

Briefly, the European Council (Consejo Europeo) is an institution of the European Union; the Council of Europe is not. Consejo Europeo and “European Council” refer to the Council of Ministers of the European Union (EU), which currently (pre-Brexit) has 28 member states. In contrast, the “Council of Europe” (Consejo de Europa) is a totally separate international organization located in Strasbourg, France, devoted to working toward European integration and protecting human rights since its founding in 1949. The principal achievement of the Council of Europe (COE) is the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights (not to be confused with the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights). The Council of Europe’s European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rules on applications concerning alleged human rights violations in the 47 Council of Europe member states. All European Union member states are likewise members of the Council of Europe. Negotiations for the EU to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights are ongoing.

The fact that these institutions are often confused, even by legal professionals, has been noted in a research guide on the Council of Europe prepared by librarians at the Duke University Law Library: “Although it has a close relationship with the European Union, the Council of Europe (Conseil de l’Europe, Consejo de Europa, Europarat, Consiglio d’Europa) is not part of the EU. Be especially careful not to confuse it with an EU institution called the European Council (Conseil européen, Consejo Europeo, Europäisher Rat, Consiglio europeo) which is a special meeting of the EU’s Council of Ministers.”


Same Thing, Different Name: Ombudsman in Spain

One of the pitfalls of legal translation is that the same concept may often be known by several different terms. Lawyers are aware of these variants; legal translators may not be. In this section I will include some of the legal terms in Spanish law that are essentially the “same thing with a different name.”

Same thing, different nameheading

Defensor del Pueblo; Ombudsman

The institution set up in Spain to hear citizens’ complaints concerning violations of their fundamental rights and public liberties is the Defensor del Pueblo, following the (originally) Swedish ombudsman model. Many of Spain’s autonomous communities (comunidades autónomas) have created similar institutions at the local level, two of which are likewise known as Defensor del Pueblo: Defensor del Pueblo Andaluz and Defensor del Pueblo de Navarra.

But this same institution is known by other names in other autonomous communities. Procurador is the term used in Castilla y León (Procurador del Común de Castilla y León). The ombudsman in Aragón is known as El Justicia de Aragón, while in the Canary Islands the term is Diputado del Común de Canarias. And still others are known by the term in the co-official language of their comunidad: Sindic de Greuges de Catalunya in Catalonia, Sindic de Greuges de la Comunitat Valenciana in the Comunidad Valenciana, Valedor do Pobo Galego in Galicia, and Ararteko in the Basque Country. The Defensor del Pueblo de Navarra is also known by its name in euskera, Nafarroako Arartekoa.

Asturias previously had an ombudsman (2005-2013) known as Procurador General del Principiado de Asturias (Procurador Xeneral del Principáu d’Asturies in asturiano), as did La Rioja (Defensor del Pueblo Riojano (2006-2013) and Murcia (Defensor del Pueblo de la Región de Murcia (2008-2012). The Defensor del Pueblo de Castilla-La Mancha was likewise eliminated in 2011. The autonomy statutes (estatutos de autonomía) of Cantabria and Extremadura provide for an ombudsman (to be known respectively as Defensor del Pueblo Cántabro and Personero del Común), but those provisions were never implemented. A 1993 law provided for a Sindic de Greuges de les Illes Balears, but at the time of this writing the successive governments of the Balearic Islands have never appointed anyone to that post.


Español jurídico : Cortes Generales; Cortes Españolas

Legal Spanish for Translators

Although Spaniards of a certain age would probably not confuse these terms, I have seen the former called by the latter’s name several times both in translation and on the Web, so it is perhaps worth underscoring the difference. Cortes Generales is the name of Spain’s bicameral parliament including, as its lower house, the Congreso de los Diputados (“House of Deputies”) and upper house, the Senado (“Senate”). Las Cortes Generales were established and are regulated in Title Three of the Spanish Constitution of 1978, and its members are known respectively as diputados and senadores.

In contrast, Cortes Españolas was the unicameral legislative assembly under the Franco regime, established in 1942 and existing until 1977. Its members were known as Procuradores en Cortes and should not be confused with procuradores de los tribunales, who represent the interests of their respective parties before the Spanish Courts.

Differences in Case Citation in the US and UK


Differences in court case citation in the US and UK (and in other Commonwealth countries) may sometimes be a source of confusion. As an example, in the US a civil action is generally styled “Smith v. Jones,” Smith being the plaintiff (demandante, now known as the claimant in England and Wales) and Jones the defendant (demandado). The case name is read aloud as “Smith versus Jones.” In England that same civil case would be written in the same way (Smith v. Jones), but would be read aloud as “Smith and Jones.”

Criminal cases in the US are easily identified by the fact that the first party, represented by the prosecutor or district attorney (fiscal), is the government, whether federal or state, as in the “United States v. Jones” or the “People of the State of Michigan v. Jones.” Here, as in civil cases, “v.” is also read aloud as “versus,” In England and in other Commonwealth countries criminal cases are prosecuted by the Crown in the name of the monarch, and therefore this same  case would be styled “R v. Jones,” “R” standing for the Latin “Regina” (queen) or “Rex” (king). However, the case name would be read aloud as “The Queen against Jones” (and not “The Queen versus Jones”).

In the US “v.” is often read aloud as “vee,” rather than “versus” (pronouncing “v.” like the letter “v”), although legal linguist Bryan Garner cautions against this practice in his “Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage” (Oxford, 2011, p. 920).


Legal English in the US and UK: Translating escrito


The term escrito is widely used in Spain to refer to pleadings and other documents that lawyers file in court, and the term “brief” is often used to translate escrito in this context: escrito de demanda (“brief of complaint”), escrito de apelación (“appellate brief”). This translation may actually be appropriate for American audiences since in US usage a brief is simply “a written statement setting out the legal contention of a party in litigation.”* However, it should be noted that “brief” has a very specific meaning in English law that would preclude its being used in this context for UK readers. In effect, in England and Wales “brief” refers specifically to a solicitor’s instructions to a barrister, defined as “a document or bundle of documents by which a solicitor instructs a barrister to appear in court,”** and it can only be appropriately used in that context.

*Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th ed., 2004.

**Oxford Dictionary of Law, 6th ed., 2006.

Confusing Terms: “Brand,” “Brand Name,” Trademark” and “Tradename”

LeGal English_ _Brand_ & _Tracemark_
Many confusing terms in legal Spanish and legal English are simply legal synonyms that are not always clearly distinguishable, often making it necessary to learn how each one is used in a specific context or in set phrases (frases hechas). Some may be interchangeable; others are limited to use in specific contexts. Those highlighted in this blog are ones that I have seen confused in translation or that my students and lawyer clients have found most difficult to distinguish.

“Brand;” “brand name” and “trademark” (spelled “trade mark” in BrE) are sometimes confused because they are most often rendered in Spanish simply as marca. But “brand” is perhaps more a marketing concept than a legal term, while “trademark” generally denotes the legal protection provided certain distinctive signs (signos distintivos) under trademark law (Derecho de marcas; Derecho marcario). Examples of the use of “brand” and “brand name” in the context of marketing might include “brand name watches” (relojes de marca); “brand name clothing” (ropa de marca); “brand name recognition” or “brand awareness” (conocimiento/notoriedad de la marca); and “brand name products” or “name brands” (productos de marca), as opposed to “house brands,” “store brands” or “own brands” (marcas blancas).

Common expressions with “trademark” and “mark” include “trademark application” (solicitud de marca); “trademark registration” (registro de marca); “trademark infringement” (violación del derecho de marca); “word mark” (marca denominativa); “device mark” (marca gráfica); “slogan mark” (marca publicitaria); “well-known mark” (marca notoria); and “renowned mark” (marca renombrada).

In other respects. “tradename” (spelled “trade name” in BrE) is nombre comercial, the name under which a business operates. Thus, for example, the expression “Kabushiki Kaisha Toshiba, doing business as Toshiba Corporation” means Kabushiki Kaisha Toshiba, que gira bajo el nombre comercial de Toshiba Corporation. In Spain trademarks and tradenames are protected under trademark law and are registered at the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office (Oficina Española de Patentes y Marcas), while company names (denominaciones sociales) are recorded on the Companies Register (Registro Mercantil).

(See additional trademark vocabulary here.)