Appellate Judgments in the US and UK (translating estimar and desestimar

It is often difficult to translate estimar and desestimar in the context of appellate decisions, and the problem often lies in confusing American and British usage. When an appellate court accepts an appeal as having merit (estima el recurso), this is expressed in England and Wales as “the appeal is allowed,” while desestima el recurso is expressed as “the appeal is dismissed.” Thus British usage mirrors the Spanish in that both reflect the appellate court’s decision from the perspective of the appeal itself.

In contrast, in American usage the appellate court views the appeal from the perspective of the lower court’s decision. Rather than indicating that the “appeal is allowed” (se estima el recurso) as in England, in AmE the lower court’s judgment is “reversed” (literally, se revoca la sentencia en primera instancia). Likewise, to denote desestimación del recurso, in AmE the lower court’s judgment is “affirmed” (literally, se confirma la sentencia en primera instancia). And, in effect, the first thing that appears on opinions rendered in appeal proceedings in the US is the word “AFFIRMED” or “REVERSED” in capital letters.

If it is unclear whether a translation is intended for US or UK audiences, it may be helpful to use a “safe” (and admittedly rather wordy) rendering that combines both British and American usage. Thus, se estimó el recurso may be expressed as “the appeal was allowed, thus reversing the lower court’s decision,” while se desestimó el recurso would be “the appeal was dismissed, thus affirming the lower court’s decision.” In these translations both US and British readers would immediately see the key words that they recognize as indicating whether the appeal was accepted as having merit (“allowed,” “reversed”) or not (“dismissed,” “affirmed”).

In other respects, it should perhaps be noted that in this context “allowed” and “dismissed” do not mean admitido and inadmitido. In that regard, el recurso ha sido admitido (a trámite) merely indicates that it meets the formal requirements and has been admitted to prosecution for an eventual decision on the merits. An appeal that fails to meet formal requirements will be inadmitido, although defects can often be be cured (subsanados) and the appeal subsequently allowed to proceed.

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