Legal English Expressions with “failure to”

My students of legal English sometimes tell me that they find the expressions “failure + verb” (and “to fail + verb)” confusing. Often present in legal texts, they simply express the fact of neglecting to do something, either willingly or otherwise, that may often be legally required. Many times these structures have a synonym in English commencing with “non-,” as in:

  • failure to perform (a contract/an obligation) = nonperformance
  • failure to fulfill (an obligation) = non-fulfillment
  • failure to comply (with conditions) = noncompliance
  • failure to pay (a debt) = nonpayment
  • failure to deliver (goods) = non-delivery
  • failure to use (a trademark) = nonuse
  • failure to accept (the conditions) = non-acceptance
  • failure to conform (to the standards) = nonconformance
  • failure to disclose (required information) = non-disclosure
  • failure to join (an indispensable party) = non-joinder
  • failure to attend (a meeting) = non-attendance
  • failure to appear (at trial) = nonappearance
  • failure to renew (a contract) = non-renewal
  • failure to observe (formalities, the rules, etc.) = nonobservance

It is also interesting to note that many “failure to” expressions are often rendered in Spanish with terms beginning with the prefixes “in-” or “im-”:

  • failure to perform/fulfill/comply (incumplimiento)
  • failure to pay (impago)
  • failure to appear (incomparecencia)
  • failure to attend (inasistencia)
  • failure to observe (inobservancia)
  • failure to act (inacción)

 In conclusion, in addition to the Spanish terms appearing above, “failure to” provides an appropriate translation for many legal Spanish expressions commencing with “falta de” and “omisión de” such as falta de agotamiento de la vía administrativa (failure to exhaust all available administrative remedies); falta (or) omisión de presentación de la declaración de la renta (failure to file a tax return) or omisión del deber de socorro (failure to come to the aid).

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