Common Words with Uncommon Legal Meanings: “Information”

In legal contexts “information” and información can often be considered equivalent concepts, as in información confidencial (confidential information) or delito de revelación de información clasificada (offense of disclosure of classified information). Likewise, in corporate law contexts, derecho de información refers to shareholders’ right to have access to company information.

But this is not always the case. Información privilegiada is indeed “insider information” but abuso de información privilegiada denotes “insider trading” or “insider dealing.” And información de derechos al detenido is the Spanish expression for “reading an arrestee his rights.”

As for “information,” translators may initially be puzzled the first time they see this common term used with an uncommon meaning in criminal law contexts where it denotes either the reporting of a crime (in England and Wales) called “laying an information,” or a formal criminal charge brought by a prosecutor (in the US).

For information(!), here are the pertinent definitions:

  • laying an information—giving a magistrate a concise statement (an information), verbally or in writing, of an alleged offense and the suspected offender, so that he can take steps to obtain the appearance of the suspect in court. Information can be laid by any member of the public, although it is usually done by the police (Oxford Dictionary of Law)
  • information—a formal criminal charge made by a prosecutor without a grand-jury indictment (Black’s Law Dictionary)

So, what are possible translations of “information” in these contexts? In the first case (the Oxford Dictionary definition for England and Wales), “information” might be rendered as denuncia de un delito (perhaps more commonly expressed in the US as a “crime report”), while “laying an information” might be translated as denunciar un delito (also more likely to be expressed in US English as “reporting a crime”). In the second case (the Black’s Law Dictionary definition), “information” could appropriately be rendered as escrito de acusación, which in Spain is the term denoting a prosecutor’s (fiscal) charging instrument.

False Friends: asesor vs. assessor; asesorar vs. to assess; asesoramiento vs. assessment

Despite appearances, asesorar and “assess” are false cognates. The verb asesorar does not mean “to assess,” but rather “to advise.” Thus an asesor is an “advisor” or “consultant,” and the term is frequently used in expressions such as asesor fiscal (“tax advisor” or “tax consultant”), asesor jurídico (“legal counsel”) or asesor jurídico de empresas (“corporate counsel”).

In contrast, the verb “to assess” often has the meaning of calcular, evaluar or tasar. Thus, in the context of insurance law and personal injury claims “assessment of damages” may refer to tasación (or) peritaje de daños. In the context of tax law, “tax assessment” often denotes liquidación de impuestos in the sense of calculating taxes due. In that regard, the expression “self-assessment,” widely used in the UK, corresponds to what in Spain is known as autoliquidación del impuesto, i.e., a taxpayer’s calculation of the taxes he owes using a “self-assessment tax return form” (modelo de declaración) for the tax in question. “Assessor” in this context has the meaning of tasador, and a “tax assessor” assesses or calculates (tasa) values (of property, assets, income, etc.) for tax purposes, performing duties similar to those of a Spanish inspector actuario (a “tax auditor-actuary” or “tax inspector-actuary”).

Regarding the noun “assessment,” in the terminology of civil procedure in England and Wales the expression “assessment of costs” denotes what in Spanish courts is called tasación de costas, describing the process of determining the amount of costs to be awarded the prevailing party in litigation (known as “taxation of costs” in the US). And in other respects, asesoramiento generally refers to “advising (or) consulting services,” as in asesoramiento financiero (“financial consulting services”) or asesoramiento jurídico (“legal counsel” or “legal advice”).

Legal English: What is a “cloud on title”?

“Cloud” is one of those everyday English terms whose legal meaning is totally unrelated to its common one. Indeed, in legal contexts “cloud” has absolutely nothing to do with nubes, but rather is basically a synonym of “defect” as used in the expression “cloud on title.” Black’s 6th explains that cloud on title is an “outstanding claim or encumbrance which, if valid, would affect or impair the title of a particular estate,” while Black’s 8th simplifies the definition describing it as a “defect or potential defect in the owner’s title to a piece of land arising from a claim or encumbrance.” Aspects that could be considered a “cloud on title” include either (1) liens, mortgages, judgments and tax levies (etc.) on the property in question, or (2) actual defects in the title deed itself.

“Cloud on title” is a difficult expression to render in Spanish. The Cabanellas-Hoague EN-ES dictionary simply defines the concept as factor que incide negativamente sobre la certeza o validez de un título inmobiliario, sea por referirse a la existencia y transmisión del derecho previsto en ese título o los gravámenes o cargas respecto de tal derecho, without offering a Spanish translation. Google Translate and DeepL’s nube sobre el título obviously won’t work. The definitional renderings imperfección del título and título insuficiente (Alcaraz-Hughes) give an idea of the meaning, but perhaps don’t ring true in legal Spanish. And the same may perhaps be said of the defecto de título that often appears in Internet sources.

Adding to this difficulty is the fact that in this context the meanings of “title” and título may not actually be equivalent concepts. In that regard, “title” often refers to a document evidencing ownership (an already-registered “title deed”—title to my house; title to my car), while título denotes the documents evidencing different types of transactions that a rightsholder may apply to have recorded on the the Spanish Registro de la Propiedad. Thus, registrable rights (títulos inscribibles) include not only ownership of property (dominio; propiedad), but also any other of the rights in property (derechos reales) that one may seek to register (hipotecas, usufructo, servidumbres, etc.)

So, getting back to “cloud on title,” if the reference is to liens, mortgages, judgments or tax levies, perhaps “cloud” can be viewed here simply as an encumbrance (gravamen) on the property in question and “cloud on title” rendered as gravamen sobre el inmueble. But if the reference is actually to a defect in a registered title, this is known (at least in Spain) as inexactitud del Registro, and perhaps in this case “cloud on title” could be rendered as inexactitud registral.

Note: I’ve used plenty of wishy-washy “mays,” “perhaps” and “maybes” above, because “cloud on title” is very close to being one of the true intraducibles of Legal English.