Legal English 101: órgano can’t always be translated as “organ”

Órgano and “organ” are another pair of often-confused “false friends”. They are certainly cognates when used in legal (and other) contexts to refer to organs of the human body, as in transplante de órganos (“organ transplants”) or donantes de órganos (“organ donors”). And órgano may likewise be rendered as “organ” when referring to periodicals published by organizations such as political parties, as in Granma, Órgano Oficial del Comité Central del Partido Comunista de Cuba (“Granma, Official Organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba”).

But in other legal contexts órgano often more appropriately denotes an “institution,” “governing body,” “board” or “agency.” Examples include órgano consultivo (“advisory body,” “advisory board”); órgano de gobierno (“governing body”); órgano de la Unión Europea (“institution of the European Union”) or órganos de la Administración del Estado (“governmental agencies”).

As another example, órganos constitucionales del Estado denotes the principal “institutions of the Spanish state” created and regulated in the Constitution, including the Crown (la Corona), the Spanish parliament (las Cortes Generales) comprising the House of Deputies (Congreso de los Diputados) and Senate (Senado), the government (Gobierno), Constitutional Court (Tribunal Constitucional) and the General Council of the Judiciary (Consejo General del Poder Judicial).

And special mention should be made of the use of órgano in the sense of “court.” In that regard, órgano jurisdiccional and órgano judicial are generic expressions for “court” that are used when no distinction needs to be made between juzgados (courts with a single sitting judge) and tribunales (multi-judge courts in which several judges, usually three, sit in panels). Indeed juzgados and tribunales are often referred to respectively as órganos unipersonales and órganos colegiados. Thus, for example, in this context el órgano que dictó sentencia denotes the “court that rendered judgment,” órganos judiciales competentes are “courts of competent jurisdiction,” and the expression órganos jurisdiccionales del orden civil is a general reference to the “civil courts.”

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