Español jurídico: What is a juez ordinario?

Legal Spanish for Translators

Texts concerning due process guarantees in Spain (known collectively as derecho a la tutela judicial efectiva de jueces y tribunales) often mention el derecho al juez ordinario. This has perhaps inevitably been translated literally as “ordinary judge,” but this rendering doesn’t really express the meaning of the term or its significance within the Spanish judicial system. In that regard, Article 24.2 of the Spanish Constitution guarantees the right to a juez ordinario predeterminado por la ley. The right to a judge predeterminado por la ley means that citizens will be tried by judges assigned to their cases following established case assignment rules, rather than by an ad hoc judge appointed to hear a specific case ex post.

This juez ordinario procedural guarantee goes hand in hand with the prohibción de tribunales de excepción contained in Article 117.6 of the Spanish Constitution, which precludes creating courts to adjudicate matters a posteriori outside of the ordinary court system.

The prohibition of ad hoc judges and courts can be considered an essential guarantee of any democratic system. But perhaps it is not surprising that this was included specifically in the Spanish Constitution of 1978, given that during the Franco regime from 1963 until two years after the dictator’s death in 1975, an ad hoc court (the Tribunal del Orden Público, or “TOP”) prosecuted what were considered political offenses against the Franco state.

It may also be useful for translators to note that in Spain civil, criminal, administrative and labor courts are classified as tribunales ordinarios, while the Constitutional Court (Tribunal Constitucional), Court of Audit (Tribunal de Cuentas), military courts (tribunales militares), and customary courts (tribunales consuetudinarios) are not considered as part of the ordinary court system (tribunales de la jurisdicción ordinaria).

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