Confusing Terms: Derecho de daños; delito de daños

Confusing Terms2

Derecho de daños; delito de daños

These look-alike expressions may appear to be similar in meaning, but they actually have nothing in common other than the word daños. Derecho de daños (also called Derecho de la responsibilidad civil or Derecho de la responsibilidad extracontractual, is the term widely used in Spanish law to denote what in English is called “tort law” or the “law of torts.”

In contrast, delito de daños (Código Penal, arts. 263-267) describes the criminal offense of maliciously damaging the property of another (daños en propiedad ajena). In many common law jurisdictions (US; England and Wales) this is known as “criminal damage (to property).” For example, the Criminal Damage Act 1971 in force in England and Wales defines this offense as an act commited by a person who “without lawful excuse, destroys or damages any property belonging to another, intending to destroy or damage any such property, or being reckless as to whether any such property would be destroyed or damaged.” “Vandalism” and “malicious mischief” are other terms that describe aspects of what in Spain are defined as delitos de daños.

False Friends: When absolución isn’t “absolution”

Oh, no! False Friends

absolución; absolution / absolver; to absolve

In religious contexts, absolución and “absolution” are often cognates referring, for example, to the remission of sin imparted by a priest. In that regard, a priest may “absolve someone of his sins” (absolverle de sus pecados). But absolución and “absolution” are not cognates in legal contexts. In criminal procedure, absolución denotes “acquittal,” and refers to a finding that a criminal defendant (el acusado) is “not guilty.” Thus in criminal law contexts absolver is “to acquit” or “to find not guilty.”

In contrast, in civil procedure, absolución (del demandado) refers to a “finding (or) judgment for the defendant.” Thus se absuelve al demandado en primera instancia implies that the trial court “found for the defendant” or “rendered judgment for the defendant.”

In summary, in criminal proceedings absolución and sentencia absolutoria refer to an “acquittal” (a judgment of not guilty), while in civil proceedings absolución and sentencia absolutoria denote a “judgment for the defendant.” And in neither case would it be appropriate to translate absolución as “absolution.”

Legal Latin: italics? (or not?)

Latin for Lawyers

In nonlegal as well as legal texts it is customary to italicize foreign words and expressions. But when dealing with legal Latin that’s not always the case. Certain Latin expressions are in such common use that they are considered part of the legal English lexicon. After having checked several legal style guides (Blue Book; Cambridge Law Journal, California Style Manual, among others), I’m sharing below my lists of “don’t italicize” and “do italicize” Latin terms.

Note: There may be no hard fast rules here. Several terms appeared as “do italicize” in some sources and as “don’t italicize” in others. These include: ab initio, in loco parentis, caveat emptor and non compos mentis, etc.

Latin terms NOT italicized

actus reus


ad hoc

ad hominem

ad infinitum

ad litem

ad valorem

ab initio

a fortiori


alter ego

amici curiae

amicus curiae

anno Domini


a priori




bona fide

caveat emptor


compos mentis



corpus delicti

corpus juris

de facto

de jure

de minimis

de novo



duces tecum

ex contractu

ex delicto

ex officio

ex parte

ex post facto

forum non conveniens

habeas corpus

in camera

in extenso

in extremis

in forma pauperis

in futuro

in limine

in loco parentis

in pari delicto

in pari materia

in personam

in propria persona

in pro. Per.

in rem

in situ

inter alia

inter vivos

in toto

ipso facto

lis pendens

mala in se

mala prohibita

malum in se

malum prohibitum


mens rea

modus operando

nisi prius

nolle prosequi

nolo contendere

non campos mentis

non obstante veredicto

nunc pro tunc

obiter dictum


pendente lite

per annum

per diem

per stirpes

prima facie

pro bono publico

pro rata

pro tempore

quantum meruit

quid pro quo

quo warranto

ratio decidendi

res judicata

respondeat superior

sine qua non

stare decisis

status quo ante

sua sponte

sui generis

ultra vires


viva voce

voir dire


Latin terms that should be italicized (there are dozens more)

a posteriori

a vinculo matrimonii

ad damnum

ad diem


causa mortis

conditio sine qua non

coram nobis/vobis

cum testamento annexo

damnum absque injuria

de bene esse

duces tecum

ejusdem generis

ex curia

in curia

in perpetuum

in re

inter se

lex domicilii

lex locus contractus

lex non scripta

locus delicti

locus in quo

mala fide

ne plus ultra

parens patriae

per curiam

post facto

pro hac vice

quo animo

sensu stricto

sub judice

ut infra

ut supra

vide ut supra




Español jurídico: What is a contrato de comisión?

sign pen business document
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It is sometimes wrongly assumed that the expression contrato de comisión refers exclusively to an agreement whereby an employee, agent or representative works solely on commission (trabaja a comisión) rather than receiving a fixed salary or other compensation. In that regard, contrato de comisión has at times been erroneously translated as a “sales commission agreement” or “commission-only agreement.”

But the Spanish Commercial Code’s contrato de comisión doesn’t necessarily denote “working on commission,” but rather is a type of agency agreement in which a principal (comitente) commissions an agent (comisionista) to carry out a specific commercial transaction on his behalf (the comisión). In that regard, the contrato de comisión may be considered the Commercial Code counterpart of the Spanish Civil Code’s contrato de mandato in which a principal (mandante) commissions an agent (mandatario) to perform a specific service (mandato). Depending on the context, both contrato de comisión and contrato de mandato can often be described in English simply as “agency agreements.”

Thus, in many contexts comitente, mandante and principal can generally be translated as “principal,” while comisionista, mandatario, agente and often gestor can be rendered as “agent.” If it is necessary to distinguish between the Commercial Code and Civil Code counterparts, a contrato de comisión might be described as a “commercial agency agreement” or “Commercial Code agency agreement,” while contrato de mandato might be rendered as “Civil Code agency agreement” or an “agency agreement governed by the Civil Code.” And of course, depending on the terms of the contrato de comisión, a comisionista may or may not “work on commission” (trabajar a comisión).

In other respects, contrato de agencia (“agency agreement”) is likewise used in Spain, having been formally defined in the Agency Agreement Act (Ley 12/1992, de 27 de mayo, sobre Contrato de Agencia), which incorporated into Spanish law the provisions of Directive 86/653/EEC of 18 December 1986 on the coordination of the laws of EU Member States relating to self-employed commercial agents.

Read more here

Español jurídico: What is tácita reconducción?

Weird Words You Need to Know

This strange, seemingly cryptic expression is defined in the RAE’s Diccionario del Español Jurídico como prórroga del contrato de arrendamiento de fincas rústicas o urbanas que se produce cuando, una vez terminado el contrato hecho por tiempo determinado, permanece el arrendatario disfrutando quince días de la cosa arrendada con aquiescencia del arrendador.* In that regard, reconducción refers specifically to prórroga de un arrendamiento (DLE).

Tácita reconducción has often been translated literally as “tacit renewal,” described as “renewal by default” or, perhaps in more idiomatic English, rendered as “automatic renewal (of a lease).” But it should be noted that all of these translations are actually inaccurate, confusing prórroga (“extension”) with renovación (“renewal”). Thus tácita reconducción more appropriately denotes the “automatic extension” of a lease (if, as indicated in the DEJ’s definition above, fifteen days after the contract expires neither party has given notice of termination to the other).

*Código Civil, arts. 1566-1567.

Translating “hechos” across Legal Disciplines


One of my lawyer students of Legal English recently asked me how to translate hechos, whether they are “acts,” “facts,” “events” or something else. And of course I had to reply that it depends on the context (in legal translation, context is everything). Here are a few examples from Spanish law with (possible / approximate) English translations (there may be others):

Derecho registral

  • hechos inscribibles (recordable events)

Derecho de daños

  • responsabilidad por hechos propios (personal liability)
  • responsabilidad por hechos ajenos (vicarious liability)

Derecho procesal

  • hechos aducidos (facts alleged [in pleadings, etc.])
  • hechos controvertidos (facts in issue; facts in dispute)
  • hechos no controvertidos (undisputed/uncontested facts)
  • hechos probados (proven facts; facts as found)
  • hechos notorios (facts that are common knowledge)
  • hechos notorios no necesitados de prueba (judicial facts; judicially-noticed facts)
  • hechos nuevos o de nueva noticia (new or after-discovered evidence)

Derecho penal

  • hecho típico (criminal offense; act/action/conduct defined as a criminal offense)
  • hecho constitutivo de la infracción penal (conduct constituting a criminal offense)
  • lugar de los hechos (crime scene)

Derecho tributario

  • hecho imponible (taxable event)

Derecho de familia

  • unión de hecho (nonmarital union; domestic partnership)
  • pareja de hecho (nonmarital/unmarried couple)
  • guarda de hecho (de facto guardianship)

Derecho de sociedades

  • comunicación de hechos relevantes (notice/disclosure of material events)

Derecho contable

  • hechos posteriores al cierre (events after the reporting period)

Source: Rebecca Jowers. Léxico temático de terminología jurídica español-inglés. Valencia: Tirant lo Blanch, 2015.

“Entertain” Used in Legal Contexts

Common Words with Uncommon Legal Meanings

In everyday English “entertain” is most often associated with providing amusement or with offering hospitality to a guest. But as a verb, “entertain” has the additional meaning of “to bear in mind” or “to take under consideration,” and in legal contexts means “to give judicial consideration to” (Black’s). Thus “the court entertained the motion for continuance” indicates that the judge considered the party’s request for a delay (but may or may not have decided to grant it). Here are a few examples of how “entertain” is used in this context:

  • In no event shall any judge entertain such motion if it be made after the making of an opening statement by counsel for plaintiff.
  • Court finds that it cannot entertain the case because there was no dispute between the parties on the date when the application was filed.
  • The judge will not entertain any written discovery motions until the Court has been provided with an opportunity to informally mediate the parties’ dispute.
  • In the absence of leave from an appellate court, a trial judge lacks jurisdiction to entertain a motion while judgment is pending on appeal.