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)

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