False Friends: When patrimonio is not “patrimony”

Patrimonio is often translated literally as “patrimony,” but this may sound awkward in several contexts. In that regard, patrimonio often refers simply to one’s “property,” “assets” or “estate.” Thus, for example, the Spanish Criminal Code offense of delitos de falsedad contra el patrimonio y contra el orden socioecónomico may be rendered simply as “offenses against property and economic interests,” since they include crimes such as theft (hurto), burglary (robo con fuerza en las cosas), robbery (robo con violencia o intimidación en las personas), extortion (extorsión) and unauthorized use of a vehicle (robo y hurto de uso de vehículo a motor—often called “joyriding” in English). Likewise, in inheritance law patrimonio del causante denotes the “deceased’s (or) decedent’s estate,” rather than his “patrimony.”

In other respects, in Spain the expressions patrimonio histórico and patrimonio histórico-cultural refer to “cultural heritage assets” protected under the Ley de Patrimonio Histórico Español. And impuesto sobre el patrimonio is simply a “wealth tax,” while incrementos y disminuciones de patrimonio denotes “capital gains and losses.”

The term patrimonio social (in general, “business assets”) warrants a closer look, since its translation may vary according to the type of business entity to which the expression refers. In that regard, the patrimonio social of a sociedad anónima are “corporate assets.” But if, for example, the entity in question is a partnership (sociedad colectiva or sociedad comanditaria), patrimonio social would be better rendered as “partnership assets.”

And as a final example, patrimonio ganancial (also: bienes gananciales) denotes the spouses’ commonly-owned community property in a community property marriage (sociedad de gananciales), in contrast to to their individually-owned property or assets (their patrimonio privativo or bienes privativos).

Español jurídico: Who is el Magistrado Ponente?

El magistrado ponente (or just ponente) is the judge on a multi-judge court (tribunal; órgano colegiado) who is assigned to oversee a given case and, ultimately, to write the court’s opinion, reflecting the final decision of his colleagues after their deliberations have concluded. In that regard, in judgments rendered by Spanish courts it is common to see a judge’s name followed by the reference that he was the magistrado ponente:

Ha sido Ponente la Magistrada Doña XXXX, quien expresa el parecer de la Sala.

Ha sido Magistrado Ponente el Ilmo. Sr. D. XXXX, quien expresa el parecer de la Sala

In international courts in which French is one of the official languages, magistrado ponente is often referred to as “judge rapporteur” (European Court of Justice; European Court of Human Rights), prompting some translators to use this expression for ponente or to render it literally as “reporting judge,” or even as “speaker judge (or) magistrate.”

But it should be noted that “judge rapporteur” and “reporting judge” are not used in Anglo-American court opinions, and the key to appropriately translating magistrado ponente actually appears in the Spanish examples above: quien expresa el parecer de la Sala. Indeed, Anglo-American judgments commonly indicate the name of the judge in question followed by the expressions:

  • “writing (or) who wrote the opinion of the court”
  • “delivering (or) who delivered the opinion of the court”
  • “giving (or) who gave the opinion of the court”

Thus, el parecer de la Sala is, obviously, “the opinion of the court.”

“Writing/wrote the opinion of the court” appears to be more common in US courts, while “deliver/delivering (and) giving/gave the opinion of the court” seems to occur more often in UK sources. Here are some examples of all three:

  • Writing for the Court, Justice John Paul Stevens said: “It is true that we have repeatedly recognized the governmental interest in protecting children from…
  • Writing for the Court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor found that the law school had a compelling interest in attaining a diverse student body and that…
  • The Lord Justice General, writing the opinion of the court, said:. “In view of the difficulties which have arisen with the English prison authorities since …
  • Lord Reed, delivering the opinion of the court, said: “Where the summons has not called within the period specified by the rule, the automatic consequence….
  • The Opinion of the Court was delivered by the Lord Justice General. In that Opinion, he recorded that in the course of the hearing of the petition a number
  • L Phillips MR (delivering the opinion of the court) acknowledged that the difficulties the current “multiple publication” rule posed for Internet publishers…
  • Giving the opinion of the court, Lord Justice Clerk Gill said: “On the information before us, we conclude that the Society is neither secret nor sinister…
  • Giving the opinion of the court, the Lord President said it was clear that the effect of the statutory provisions, when read together, is that the court…

(concerning dissenting or concurring opinions see here)

Legal look-alikes: legado vs. legacy

Many bilingual sources equate legado with legacy, a translation that may sometimes be inappropriate. In the Spanish law of succession (Derecho de sucesiones) legado denotes a testamentary gift of either personal property (legado de bienes muebles) or real property (legado de bienes inmuebles) to someone other than the decedent’s testamentary heirs (herederos testamentarios). But legado cannot always be equated with legacy, because in English a distinction has traditionally been made between a testamentary gift of personal property (properly called a “legacy” or “bequest”) and a testamentary gift of real property (technically called a “devise”). Thus, legado de bienes muebles may be rendered as “legacy” (or “bequest”), but legado de bienes inmuebles is more properly called a “devise.” Likewise, legatario (the beneficiary of a legado) may denote either a “legatee” or “devisee,” depending on whether the beneficiary in question receives a testamentary gift of personal property (“legacy” or “bequest”) or real property (“devise”).

To further complicate matters, perhaps it should also be noted that in modern usage, particularly in the US, this technical distinction between a “legacy” or “bequest” (a testamentary gift of personal property) and a “devise” (a testamentary gift of real property) is often disregarded, and the terms may be mixed or interchanged. In fact, the Uniform Probate Code (adopted in 18 states) has eliminated the distinction altogether. “Legacy,” “legatee,” “bequest” and the verb “bequeath” are not used, while “devise” has been adopted to encompass testamentary gifts of both real and personal property. In that regard, in the Code when used as a noun “devise” denotes a “testamentary disposition of real or personal property” while as a verb “to devise” means “to dispose of real or personal property by will.”

Español jurídico: What are clases pasivas?

Clases pasivas (del Estado) is a broad term, referring to Spanish civil servants (funcionarios públicos) and their relatives or dependents (parientes o dependientes) who receive any type of pension or other benefit from the state, including retirees (jubilados), widows and widowers (viudas y viudos), orphans (huérfanos) or beneficiaries of disability pensions (beneficiarios de pensiones por incapacidad).

Despite this very specific meaning, classes pasivas has been translated multiple times literally as “passive classes,” even on official Spanish government, law firm and university websites. But this rendering is nonsensical and would obviously be meaningless to a US or UK lawyer or any other English-speaking audience unfamiliar with the Spanish civil service pension system. So, it’s worth the effort to avoid a literal translation and attempt to find something that actually reflects what clases pasivas means. Here are a couple of definitions:

Clases pasivas—Las personas que disfrutan de ventajas económicas por haber prestado servicios al Estado o por ser parientes o dependientes de los que fueron funcionarios, constituyen las “clases pasivas”. Dentro de éstas, los que fueron funcionarios se denominan “jubilados” o “retirados”, los familiares o dependientes de los que fueron servidores del Estado se denominan “pensionistas” o “pensionados”. (L. Ribó Durán. Diccionario de Derecho, Barcelona: Bosch, 2005)

Clases pasivas—Bajo esta denominación se califica el régimen de derechos de los funcionarios públicos (o sus causahabientes), una vez que cesan en la prestaciòn de sus servicios (jubilación, muerte). Su regulación se contiene en el Texto Refundido de la Ley de Clases Pasivas de 1987. (Juan Manuel Fernández Martínez, et.al. Diccionario Jurídico, Navarra: Thompson/Aranzadi (3rd ed.), 2004)

Based on these definitions, clases pasivas can perhaps be safely rendered as as “beneficiaries of civil service pensions” or “recipients of civil service benefits.”