Confusing Terms: expressions with instancia

tribunal de primera instancia; tribunal competente en primera instancia; tribunal competente en (primera y) única instancia; tribunal de última instancia; juzgado de primera instancia

These expressions are confusingly similar, but are definitely not interchangeable. Tribunal de primera instancia is a general term for any court of first instance and can probably be best rendered in English simply as “trial court.” In contrast, tribunal competente en primera instancia denotes a “court of original jurisdiction,” i.e., the “court where an action is initiated and first heard” (Black’s Law Dictionary), which is not necessarily a first instance or trial court. And if a court is described as competente en primera y única instancia (or simply en única instancia), it is a “court of first and last resort,” having original jurisdiction to first hear a case and whose decisions are not subject to appeal. Tribunal de última instancia is a “court of last restort,” a court that hears the final appeal of a case. And, finally, in Spain juzgado de primera instancia is a specific type of court, being the first instance court for civil proceedings. In that regard, juzgado de primera instancia may be appropriately translated as “civil trial court.”

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