Latinismos in Common Law Courts

Many legal translators simply choose not to translate Latin expressions into English or Spanish, leaving them as they appear in the original text. And, indeed, there are certainly dozens of latinismos used “as is” in both legal Spanish and legal English. Nevertheless, many of them do have accepted renderings in the other language that should probably be used instead of the Latin in translated texts. And when the Latin phrase in question is not in general use in the other language, a definitional translation may be warranted. In blog entries under Latinismos I will highlight some of the Latin expressions that I have encountered most often in my work.

 A few Latin expressions used in common law courts

When a party files a “motion to proceed in forma pauperis,” he is asking for legal aid and to be allowed to litigate without costs. In Spanish this is often rendered as solicitud de asistencia jurídica gratuita or, formerly, solicitud del beneficio de pobreza. A party who decides to defend himself at trial is said to “proceed pro se (or) pro per” (litigar sin abogado or ejercer el derecho de la autodefensa) and is known as a “pro se (or) pro per litigant”. In order to bring an action or appear in court a party must have standing (legitimación procesal), often rendered in Latin as locus standi, especially in British usage. One of the parties at trial will bear the burden of proof (carga de la prueba), called onus probandi, or simply onus, also most often used in Latin in British usage. And a lawyer who renders free legal services is said to work pro bono or pro bono publico (“for the public good”), a Latin expression also used among Spanish lawyers who provide trabajo pro bono.

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