When the Decano not a “Dean”

“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.

decano ; juez decano; decanato ; juzgado decano

In academic contexts, decano can certainly be rendered as “dean,” as in the expression Decano de la Facultad de Derecho (“Dean of the Law School/Faculty of Law”). But decano has often been translated as “dean” in contexts in which this rendering is inappropriate. When referring to the head of a professional association in expressions such as Decano del Ilustre Colegio Notarial de Valencia and Decano del Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Madrid, “decano” refers to the “president” of those entities. In this context colegio denotes a “professional association,” rather than a “college,” and in English the head of a professional association is most often its “president,” rather than a “dean.” Thus the decanos mentioned above are respectively the “President of the Valencia Notaries Association” and the “President of the Madrid Bar Association.” Some of the prominent international notaries associations that have presidents as their head officer include the International Union of Latin Notaries, National Notary Association of America, the Notaries Society of England and Wales and the Council of the Notariats of the European Union. Likewise, the head of the major US bar associations such as the American Bar Association or the National Bar Association, as well as the heads of the state bar associations are all called “presidents,” rather than “deans.” In this context vice decano refers to a “vice president,” while decano accidental is “acting (or) interim president.”

Similarly, in the context of the organization of the Spanish judiciary, decanato does not refer to a “dean’s office,” “deanery,” or even a “senior court” or “court clerk’s office,” as the term has sometimes been mistranslated, but rather to a juzgado decano, the court that oversees administrative matters for all of the courts within a given judicial district. In that regard, although often translated as “senior judge,” the juez decano (or simply decano) who presides a decanato is not necessarily the “senior judge” in the district, i.e., the judge with the most seniority (antigüedad), which is more appropriately expressed in Spanish as el juez más antiguo. In large judicial districts where there are a number of courts, the juez decano is elected by his fellow judges on the “Judges Board (or) Committee” (Junta de Jueces) to oversee court operations and to provide centralized judicial services, (although, in effect, in smaller districts this job may automatically fall to the senior judge). In view of his duties, a juez decano may perhaps be considered the Spanish counterpart of the “Chief Judge” of US Federal District Courts (not to be confused with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), who likewise oversees court administration. Thus for US audiences decano or juez decano and decanato or juzgado decano might be translated respectively as “Chief Judge” and “office of the Chief Judge.” For other audiences, or if there is a risk of confusion with the Chief Justice, perhaps “judge/office in charge of court administration” would be an appropriate descriptive translation for the two concepts.

Legal Meanings of informe

legal words
In his 1963 work “The Language of the Law,” the eminent legal linguist David Mellinkoff observed that legal discourse often uses “common words with uncommon meanings.” Indeed, in both Spanish and English, common words and expressions often take on unexpected meanings when used in legal contexts, and there are many simple, seemingly inoffensive everyday words and expressions that can prompt translation mistakes if their special legal meanings are ignored.  In this section I include some of the presumably simple legal English expressions that my students and translation clients have found most puzzling, along with a selection of legal Spanish terms that may stump translators when initially entering the legal translation field.


In many legal contexts informe has its usual meaning of “report,” as in informe de gestión (management report), informe de auditoría (audit report), informe comercial (commercial report), informe de búsqueda (search report), informe sobre el estado de la técnica (prior art report) or informe (or dictamen) pericial (expert witness report).

But informe has a very special meaning in Spanish criminal procedure, referring to the closing statements or final oral argument offered at the end of certain criminal proceedings by the prosecutor (fiscal), defense attorneys (defensor del procesado, defensor del acusador particular y defensor del actor civil*) and the attorneys for the parties deemed to have incurred civil liability (personas civilmente responsables) during the commission of the offense. As provided for in article 734** of the Criminal Procedure Act (Ley de Enjuiciamiento Criminal), these closing statements should include, among others, a summation of the facts as found, a legal assessment of those facts to ascertain the offense committed and the extent of the accused’s participation (whether as principal or accomplice), mitigating or aggravating circumstances, if any, and a determination of any possible civil liability. Thus, in the context of criminal proceedings informe may be translated as “closing statements,” “final oral argument” or with a similar expression.

*For an explanation of the role of the actor civil in Spanish criminal proceedings see the previous post at https://rebeccajowers.com/2016/05/09/false-friends-4/

**En sus informes expondrán éstos los hechos que consideren probados en el juicio, su calificación legal, la participación que en ellos hayan tenido los procesados y la responsabilidad civil que hayan contraído los mismos u otras personas, así como las cosas que sean su objeto, o la cantidad en que deban ser reguladas cuando los informantes o sus representados ejerciten también la acción civil.

Terminology Sources: Glossary of Notarial Terms

Terminology Sources

Spanish-to-English translators are often called upon to translate a variety of notarial documents. An excellent source for understanding the terminology of notarially-recorded instruments and lots of basic Civil Law concepts is the Glosario de Términos Notariales available on the website of Spain’s Consejo General del Notariado at http://glosario.notariado.org/ .

The site also offers a series of folletos informativos covering many of the areas of private law in which notaries intervene: http://www.notariado.org/liferay/web/notariado/folletos-informativos .

And, finally, the Consejo publishes a searchable online magazine Escritura Pública featuring a variety of articles that seek to serve as a punto de encuentro entre este colectivo y el resto de la sociedad: http://www.notariado.org/liferay/web/notariado/publicaciones/publicaciones-periodicas/escritura-publica .



Capsule Vocabularies: Terminology of Spanish Judicial Decisions (2)


A previous blog post examined the difference between the principal types of Spanish judicial decisions (resoluciones judiciales): providencias, autos and sentencias. To complete this survey, here are some of the basic terms and expressions relating to judgments:

  • dictar sentencia—to render/hand down/give (E&W) judgment
  • tribunal sentenciador—adjudicating court; court rendering judgment
  • sentencia dictada en primera instancia—trial judgment
  • sentencia dictada en segunda instancia—appellate judgment; judgment on appeal
  • sentencia definitiva (recurrible)—final (appealable) judgment
  • sentencia firme (no recurrible)—final (unappealable) judgment; judgment that has become final
  • devenir firme; adquirir firmeza; pasar en autoridad de cosa juzgada; causar estado; causar ejecutoria—to become final (and unappealable)
  • la sentencia ha devenido firme, la sentencia ha adquirido firmeza—the judgment has become final
  • sentencia contra la que no cabe recurso alguno—judgment not subject to appeal
  • sentencia meramente procesal; sentencia de absolución en la instancia—judgment without a ruling on the merits
  • sentencia material; sentencia sobre el fondo—judgment on the merits
  • sentencia declaratoria—declaratory judgment
  • sentencia desestimatoria; sentencia absolutoria—judgment for the defendant (civil proceedings)
  • sentencia estimatoria—judgment for the plaintiff (civil proceedings)
  • sentencia de condena; sentencia condenatoria—judgment for the plaintiff (awarding relief to the plaintiff) (civil proceedings)**
  • condena dineraria; condena al pago de cantidad de dinero—money judgment (civil proceedings)
  • condenado—judgment debtor (civil proceedings)
  • condena no dineraria—non-money judgment (civil proceedings)
  • sentencia ultra petita/petitum—judgment granting more than the relief requested
  • sentencia infra petita/petitum—judgment granting less than the relief requested
  • sentencia extra petita/petitum—judgment granting something other than the relief requested

Source: Rebecca Jowers. Léxico temático de terminología jurídica español-inglés. Madrid: Tirant lo Blanch, 2015, pp. 158-159.

** See here for additional meanings of condena and condenado in the context of Spanish criminal proceedings.