Confusing Terms: certificación; certificado; partida

Confusing Terms2

These three terms are all commonly used in Spain to denote “certificates” issued by the Registro Civil (“Civil Register,” “Bureau of Vital Statistics,” etc.). Thus, for example, a “birth certificate” may be variously referred to as a certificación de nacimiento, certificado de nacimiento and partida de nacimiento.

The term actually used in the Reglamento de la Ley del Registro Civil is certificación and, for example, a birth certificate is entitled “Certificación de Inscripción de Nacimiento.” Nevertheless, this and other certificates (de matrimonio, de defunción) are also called certificados in many official documents and on Spanish government websites.

Likewise, the expressions partida de nacimiento (or de matrimonio, de defunción) are widely used, albeit unofficially, to designate respectively a “birth certificate,” “marriage certificate” and “death certificate.” In that regard, partida originally denoted the entry on a church’s parish register of major life events (births, marriages and deaths) and, by extension, is often used informally to refer to data recorded on the Registro Civil. This is evident in the DLE’s definition of partida: registro o asiento de bautismo, confirmación, matrimonio o entierro, que se escribe en los libros de las parroquias o del registro civil.

False Friends Fridays: a new pair each week! (tráfico; traffic)

False Friends Fridays new

Legal translators will probably agree that when learning legal terminology in a bilingual context, one of the first pitfalls we encounter are the so-called “false friends,” words or expressions that appear to be cognates but may actually be unrelated in meaning. Many years ago I set about identifying the “Top 40 False Friends in Spanish-English Legal Translation.” As the list grew I had to change the title to “101 False Friends.” In my collection I now have well over that number and to-date have included 33 of them in this blog. And starting today (y hasta agotar existencias), I’ll be sharing a new pair on this site each Friday.

To be fair, I should note that some of the word pairs highlighted are only partial false friends that may actually be cognates when used in one branch of law, while perhaps qualifying as false friends in another legal practice area. And in some instances the cognate may simply not be the most appropriate rendering in legal contexts.

So to start out, let’s look at

tráfico and traffic

Tráfico must logically be rendered as “traffic” in many contexts, as in tráfico aéreo (“air traffic”), tráfico rodado (“road traffic” or “vehicular traffic”), delitos contra la seguridad del tráfico (“traffic offenses”) or accidente de tráfico (“traffic accident”). The term must likewise be translated as “trafficking” in expressions such as tráfico de drogas (“drug trafficking,” also called narcotráfico), tráfico de armas (“arms trafficking”) or tráfico de personas (“human trafficking”).

But in certain contexts tráfico refers to different aspects of “commerce” or “trade” such as in usos de tráfico (“commercial practice”); tráfico mercantil (“commercial trade” or “commercial transactions”) and tráfico intercomunitario (“intra-EU trade”). Likewise, in accounting terminology acreedores y deudores por operaciones de tráfico are respectively “trade creditors and debtors” or “trade payables and receivables.” Tráfico may also be used as a synonym of tránsito: tráfico marítimo (“maritime shipping”). And the criminal law concept of tráfico de influencias is generally rendered as “influence peddling.”

Spanish Translations of “Breach”

Legal Terms with Multiple Meanings

“Breach” is one of those multi-hued words in Legal English that requires many different translations when rendered into Spanish. “Breach of contract” (also: “contract default” or “contractual nonperformance”) is the English term for incumplimiento contractual. “Breach of trust” may be rendered as abuso de confianza, while “breach of fiduciary duty” corresponds to what in Spanish corporate law is termed adminstración desleal, describing the acts of a director or manager when acting ultra vires.

“Breach of duty” is sometimes rendered as omisión del deber, while “breach of the peace” (also: “disturbing the peace” or “disorderly conduct”) is an offense akin to the Spanish alteración del orden público or atentado contra la paz pública. Likewise in criminal law contexts, “breach of sentence” (also: “sentence violation”) is quebrantamiento de condena, while “prison breach” (also: “prison break”) more specifically denotes a fuga de prisión or, more formally, quebrantamiento de la condena privativa de libertad. And as a final example, a “data breach” entails some form of violación de la seguridad de datos, as defined in the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (Reglamento General de Protección de Datos).

Ellipsis in Legal Spanish: circunstancias modificativas

Ellipsis in Legal Spanish

circunstancias modificativas

agravantes; atenuantes; eximentes

Circunstancias modificativas is an ellipted expression used in Spanish criminal law contexts to denote certain circumstances that may aggravate or mitigate criminal liability, or even exonerate a person accused of an offense. The complete expression, with the ellipted part included is circunstancias modificativas de la responsabilidad criminal” (articles 19-23 of the Spanish Código Penal).

Other ellipses used in this context include agravantes (circunsancias agravantes) or “aggravating circumstances” that may increase the degree of criminal liability; atenuantes (circunstancias atenuantes) or “mitigating circumstances” that may reduce the degree of culpability; and eximentes (circunstancias eximentes), literally “exonerating circumstances” that, if successful at trial, may preclude criminal liability and which are known broadly in English as “defenses to criminal liability.”

Read more here and here.

False Friends: accidental and “accidental”

false friends purple

Accidental has several meanings in which the term cannot be appropriately rendered in English as “accidental.” This is the case when accidental is used in the sense of “provisional” or “temporary.” Thus, for example, the expression secretario accidental denotes an “acting (or) interim secretary.” Likewise, el decano accidental del Colegio de Abogados refers to an “acting (or) interim president of the Bar Association.”

Accidental may also mean sin formalidad jurídica (DLE). In that regard, in Spanish business law sociedad accidental is another expression for contrato de cuentas en participación, an informal business vehicle in which a party may privately contribute capital to a business venture with a view to sharing in the profits (arts. 239-243 of the Spanish Código de Comercio). As used in this context, sociedad accidental has often been translated as “partnership” or “joint venture,” although in Spain it lacks the usual legal formalities required to set up most businesses, being a simple pacto que no requiere escritura ni inscripción en el Registro Mercantil.

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.”