Just what is prevaricación?
News from the Spanish press: El juez cita al secretario de Estado para responder por cinco delitos, entre ellos prevaricación… and El partido interpuso ante el alto tribunal una querella por prevaricación contra el juez que envió a los dos artistas a prisión preventiva sin fianza. But just what is prevaricación and, more importantly, how can we translate it?
Prevaricación is perhaps one of the most misunderstood (and mistranslated) terms of Spanish criminal law.* It is often translated literally as “prevarication,” a term defined in Black’s Law Dictionary (8th ed.) as “the act or an instance of lying or avoiding the truth.” Other renderings that I have seen include:
- breach of public duties
- deliberate neglect of duty
- betrayal of trust
- criminal breach of trust
- abuse of authority; abuse of office; abuse of process
- irregular dealings (and)
But these translations aren’t really accurate. Indeed, prevaricación has a very specific meaning in Spanish criminal law, ** referring to a judge or civil servant who issues an arbitrary decision with the knowledge that it is unfair. The Spanish Criminal Code distinguishes two types of prevaricación. Prevaricación committed by public officials or civil servants (autoridad o funcionario público), often called prevaricación administrativa, is defined as dictar resolución arbitraria en asunto administrativo a sabiendas de su injusticia (Art. 404). Prevaricación committed by judges (prevaricación judicial) is similarly defined as dictar a sabiendas resolución o sentencia injusta (Art. 446).
So as used in Spanish criminal law, there is unfortunately no short, snappy rendering for prevaricación that would fit nicely in a translation, and none of those listed above expresses the meaning of the term. Thus, in this case we are obliged to render prevaricación with a “definitional translation” such as “knowingly issuing an unfair decision” or devise a similar expression that reflects its true meaning.
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*For possible English translations of other difficult criminal law terms see previous posts on:
**The meaning of prevaricación may, of course, be different in other Spanish-speaking jurisdictions.