Español jurídico: Translating indefensión

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This term is often rendered literally as “defenselessness,” a word that certainly exists in English, obviously describing the state of being utterly defenseless. But “defenselessness” is perhaps an all-too-literal rendering for indefensión, which in addition to sounding somewhat unnatural, doesn’t really convey the meaning of the term in legal contexts.

Article 24.1 of the Spanish Constitution provides that todas las personas tienen derecho a obtener la tutela efectiva de los jueces y tribunales en el ejercicio de sus derechos e intereses legítimos, sin que, en ningún caso, pueda producirse indefensión. And the Spanish Constitutional Court has interpreted the term broadly as encompassing all of the Article 24 constitutional rights including el derecho al Juez ordinario predeterminado por la ley, a la defensa y a la asistencia de letrado, a ser informados de la acusación formulada contra ellos, a un proceso público sin dilaciones indebidas y con todas las garantías, a utilizar los medios de prueba pertinentes para su defensa, a no declarar contra sí mismos, a no confesarse culpables y a la presunción de inocencia.

Thus, indefensión denotes any circumstance that deprives a party of the possibility of defending himself at any time and in any way during the judicial process. Thus, rather than “defenselessness,” indefensión may perhaps better be rendered as “denial of a means of defense,” “denial of justice,” or in view of the Article 24 guarantees involved, “denial of due process.”

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