Multiple Meanings of competencia

Legal Terms with Multiple Meanings

Competencia can’t always be translated as “competence”

There are several legal contexts in which competencia does not mean “competence.” In the context of constitutional law and with respect to the legal system in general, competencia often has the meaning of “power,” as in competencia tributaria (“taxing powers,”) competencia legislativa (“legislative powers,”) or “competencia ejecutiva” (“executive powers” or “powers of the executive”). In that regard, an expression such as ámbito de competencias (or ámbito competencial) de las Comunidades Autónimas en materia sanitaria denotes the “scope of the Autonomous Communities’ powers in the healthcare sector.” Likewise, atribuir competencias is to “grant powers, while transferencia (or) traspaso de competencias (ejecutivas o legislativas) is “transfer of (executive or legislative) powers.”

In the context of procedural law, competencia often denotes “jurisdiction,” i.e., the power of a court (or other adjudicating body) to rule on given case. This is the meaning in expressions such as competencia por razón de la materia (“subject-matter jurisdiction”); competencia por razón de la persona (“personal jurisdiction” or “in personam jurisdiction) and competencia por razón de la cuantía del litigio (“jurisdiction based on the amount in controversy (or) the jurisdictional amount”). Competencia territorial is “territorial jurisdiction,” referring to the “forum” or “venue,” i.e., the court in which a case is heard. And competencia funcional (although often translated narrowly as “appellate jurisdiction”) actually determines which court has jurisdiction over each stage in a given proceeding, including the hearing of interlocutory motions, appeals and enforcement proceedings (incidentes, recursos y ejecución de sentencias). In addition, in this sense expressions such as conflicto de competencias, cuestión de competencia (as well as conflicto de jurisdicción) may perhaps be described generically as “jurisdictional disputes.”

In this context the adjective competente means “having jurisdiction.” This is the meaning in expressions such as tribunal competente (“court of competent jurisdiction”), tribunal competente en primera instancia (“court of original jurisdiction”), tribunal competente en última instancia (“court of last resort”) or tribunal competente en primera y única instancia (“court of first and last resort”).

In other respects, the expressions incompetencia and falta de competencia denote “lack (or) want of jurisdiction:” se inadmitió el recurso por falta de competencia (“the appeal was deemed inadmissible for lack (or) want of jurisdiction”). And, when warranted, a judge may “decline jurisdiction,” which in Spanish is declararse incompetente. But, ¡ojo! in this context juez incompetente refers to a judge (or court) who lacks jurisdiction over a given matter and obviously cannot be rendered as “incompetent.” Indeed, suggesting that a judge is “incompetent” might warrant a citation for contempt of court (desacato al tribunal).

In the context of “competition law” (Derecho de la competencia) competencia is logically rendered as “competition” rather than “competence.” This is true in a number of standard expressions including falseamiento de la competencia (“distortion of competition”); política de competencia (“competition policy”); competencia destructiva (“cut-throat competition”); competencia excesiva (“excessive competition”); competencia perfecta (“perfect competition”) or competencia desleal (“unfair competition”). And an expression such as practicas restrictivas de la competencia may often be rendered as “practices in restraint of trade.”

And finally, in the context of employment contracts cláusula de no competencia refers to a “non-competition clause,” likewise known as a pacto de no competencia (“covenant not to compete”).



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