Español jurídico: What is a magistrado-juez?

Legal Spanish for Translators

In a previous post we looked at the term magistrado and saw why it cannot be translated as “magistrate.” But what about magistrado-juez? (A “judge-judge”?) For those unfamiliar with the Spanish judiciary, the term is certainly confusing. Having recently discussed this in class with my students, I thought it might be worth taking a look at it here in the blog.

The distinction between the two categories of Spanish judge (juez and magistrado) is quite clear: jueces sit on single-judge (usually) trial courts (juzgados; órganos unipersonales), while magistrados sit in panels on multi-judge (often) appellate courts (tribunales; órganos colegiados). Both can be rendered as “judge,” and the omnipresent expression jueces y magistrados is merely a reference to “judges” collectively or to the Spanish judiciary as a whole.

A magistrado-juez is a judge who has obtained the category of magistrado, but who sits on a single-judge court. A typical example are the magistrados-juez who sit on juzgados de instrucción, investigating and preparing the subsequent trials of major felonies (delitos graves).

Thus, if a definition is required, a magistrado-juez is a (senior) judge (magistrado) who sits on a single-judge court (juzgado; órgano unipersonal). But, once again, this distinction is not likely to be required in translation, and the term can usually be rendered simply as “judge.”

And, obviously magistrado-juez and “magistrate judge” are (big fat) false friends! As noted in the previous entry linked above, magistrado is a higher category of Spanish judge, while in England and Wales “magistrates” (also known as “justices of the peace”) are generally lay judges with no formal legal training. Likewise, in the United States federal system, there are “magistrate judges” who oversee civil and criminal pretrial matters and may conduct civil or criminal trials of misdemeanors (faltas; delitos leves), quite the opposite of the serious felonies investigated by Spanish magistrados-juez.

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