A tribunal isn’t always a court

Tribunal not always court

Tribunal is often mistranslated due to the assumption that the term always designates a court. But tribunales are not necessarily part of the ordinary court system, and the term may be used to designate administrative “boards” or “tribunals” that review the decisions of governmental agencies (órganos adminstrativos). A prime example is Spain’s Tribunal Económico-Administrativo, which is often mistranslated literally as “Economic-Administrative Court.” But rather than courts, as part of the Ministerio de Economía y Hacienda, tribunales económico-administrativos are administrative tribunals that provide a procedure for challenging decisions of the Spanish tax authorities and, as such, they are perhaps more accurately described as “tax appeal boards.”

In that regard, an expression such as reclamación económico-administrativa describes an “(administrative) appeal of a decision of the tax authorities.” Once this administrative remedy has been exhausted (agotada la vía administrativa), appeals from the decisions of tax authorities may be subsequently taken to the administrative courts (tribunales contencioso-administrativos), which are indeed a part of the ordinary court system (tribunales ordinarios). But a tribunal económico-administrativo cannot be accurately described as a “court.”

In English “tribunal” often likewise designates an administrative review board rather than a court, especially when referring to those that decide tax or employment benefit claims. Examples in the US include the New York City Tax Appeals Tribunal, Michigan Tax Tribunal, Wisconsin Unemployment Insurance Appeal Tribunal or Tennessee Employment Security Appeals Tribunal.

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