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.”

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