Legal English 101: Is jurisprudencia really “jurisprudence”?

Jurisprudencia and “jurisprudence” are another pair of look-alikes that shouldn’t be confused. Jurisprudencia is the Spanish term for “caselaw” (“case law” in British English, also called “decisional law”), that is, judgments rendered by courts of justice, while in its strictest sense “jurisprudence” is the science of law or legal theory (sharing some of the content of the disciplines of Teoría del Derecho and Filosofía del Derecho as traditionally taught in Spanish law schools). Thus jurisprudencia del Tribunal Supremo refers to “Supreme Court caselaw,” while expressions such as jurisprudencia (or) doctrina jurisprudencial sentada/reiterada/pácifica denote “established (or) settled caselaw.” In that regard, in Spanish published collections of caselaw or electronically-accessible caselaw databases are called repertorios de jurisprudencia, which are variously known in English as “law reports,” “law reporters,” “caselaw reports,” or “caselaw reporters.”

Despite the above, it should be noted that the term “jurisprudence” is sometimes used in English with the meaning of “caselaw,” particularly in jurisdictions where French is or formerly was the official language, such as Quebec and Louisiana. In Louisiana, for example, established or settled caselaw is called “jurisprudence constante.” Likewise, “jurisprudence” is sometimes used with the meaning of “caselaw” in documents issued in English by international organizations in which French is one of the official languages, notably the European Union and Council of Europe. As an example, EU institutions often use “caselaw” and “jurisprudence” as synonyms, such as on the European Commission’s Banking and Finance webpage where the two terms are used interchangeably. In that regard, the webpage contains a “Guide to the case law of the European Court of Justice” and “Case law on ‘golden shares’” alongside a “Chronological overview of selected jurisprudence” and “Selected jurisprudence by topic.”*

* http://ec.europa.eu/finance/capital/framework/court/index_en.htm#maincontentSec1

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