Ellipsis in Legal Spanish: Sala Primera, Sala Segunda, etc.

Spanish legal professionals may assume that their audiences will understand what is meant when they refer to any of the five divisions of the Supreme Court by their number (Sala Primera, Sala Segunda, etc.). And some translators choose to render these literally as “First Chamber,” “Second Chamber.” But there is an ellipsis in these expressions, Sala Primera referring to the Sala Primera, de lo Civil or “Civil Division” of the Supreme Court, while Sala Segunda, de lo Penal denotes the Court’s “Criminal Division.” Indeed, the Spanish Supreme Court has five divisions: Sala Primera, de lo Civil (“Civil Division”); Sala Segunda, de lo Penal (“Criminal Division”); Sala Tercera, de lo Contencioso-Administrativo (“Administrative Division”); Sala Cuarta, de lo Social (“Labor Division”) and Sala Quinta, de lo Militar (“Military Division”). Thus instead of merely repeating the number, it may be more accurate to translate these references as “Civil Division,” “Criminal Division,” “Administrative Division,” etc.

Likewise, Magistrado de la Sala Segunda denotes a “Judge of the Criminal Division of the Supreme Court,” a Magistrado de la Sala Tercera is a “Judge of the Administrative Division of the Supreme Court,” while a Magistrado de la Sala Cuarta is a “judge of the Labor Division of the Supreme Court,” etc. In texts in which it is clear that the reference is to the Supreme Court, these three examples might also be translated simply as “Civil Division Judge,” “Criminal Division Judge” and “Labor Division Judge.”

Mistranslations(?): autotutela administrativa

The meaning of autotutela administrativa has sometimes been misunderstood, and the term has been translated variously as “self-control,” “self-regulation, “self-protection,” “self-authorization,” “self-government” and “self-help.” The expression actually denotes the public administration’s powers to compel compliance and to enforce its own decisions without the intervention of the courts. In that regard, autotutela administrativa is defined as el privilegio de las Administraciones públicas según el cual sus actos se presumen válidos y pueden ser impuestos a los ciudadanos, incluso coactivamente, sin necesidad del concurso de los tribunales, y al margen del consentimiento de aquellos.* Thus, in this context autotutela denotes the “self-executing decision-making powers” of governmental agencies and may perhaps be rendered as the public administration’s (or) the government’s “compliance and enforcement powers,” an expression often used to describe the powers exercised by governmental agencies in the UK, Canada and Australia.

*EJ Enciclopedia Jurídica. http://www.enciclopedia-juridica.biz14.com

Multiple Meanings of letrado

Because letrado has at least three different meanings in Spanish legal usage, this term is sometimes a source of confusion and translation mistakes. Letrado is most often simply a synonym for abogado (“lawyer,” “attorney,” “counsel”) and derecho a la asistencia letrada is the “right to counsel,” while letrado de oficio is “assigned (or) appointed counsel,” sometimes referred to as a “legal aid lawyer.” In England and Wales the preferred term in this context is “duty solicitor,” while in Canada “duty counsel” is used.

Secondly, letrado may also denote a lawyer who “clerks” for a judge, conducting legal research and drafting initial opinions. This is the case, for example, of the Letrados del Tribunal Constitucional and Letrados del Tribunal de Justicia de la Unión Europea, who may be described respectively as “legal counsel” (or “law clerks, “judicial clerks” or “judicial assistants”) to the (Spanish) Constitutional Court and the Court of Justice of the European Union. And in a third meaning, Letrados de las Cortes Generales refers to lawyers who provide legal services to the Spanish Parliament and, as such, may perhaps be described as “parliamentary counsel” or “legal counsel/legal advisors to Parliament.”