Common Words with Uncommon Legal Meanings: pacífico/a

The simple adjective pacífico/a denotes lo que no tiene o no halla oposición, contradicción o alteración en su estado (DLE), and is used in several legal contexts. Perhaps its most common meaning is “peaceful,” as in derecho de reunión pacífica (right of peaceful assembly). The term likewise has the meaning of “peaceful” or “non-violent” in expressions such as solución pacífica de conflictos (peaceful conflict resolution). Goce pacífico denotes “quiet enjoyment,” that is, use of property that is unopposed by someone claiming paramount title (mejor derecho). Thus goce pacífico de la cosa durante la duración del arrendamiento refers to the right to quiet enjoyment of the property in question for the duration of the rental lease. Posesión pacífica (unopposed possession) is one of the elements that must be proved to establish adverse possession (usucapión, also called prescripción adquisitiva). And pacífico is also used in legal writing to describe something that is considered unquestionable, undeniable or well-established: según es pacífico afirmar… (as is generally accepted…). In that regard, for example, the much-used term jurisprudencia pacífica simply denotes “established (or) settled caselaw.”

Legal Meanings of informe

In his 1963 work “The Language of the Law,” the eminent legal linguist David Mellinkoff observed that legal discourse often uses “common words with uncommon meanings.” Indeed, in both Spanish and English, common words and expressions often take on unexpected meanings when used in legal contexts, and there are many simple, seemingly inoffensive everyday words and expressions that can prompt translation mistakes if their special legal meanings are ignored.  In this section I include some of the presumably simple legal English expressions that my students and translation clients have found most puzzling, along with a selection of legal Spanish terms that may stump translators when initially entering the legal translation field.

informe

In many legal contexts informe has its usual meaning of “report,” as in informe de gestión (management report), informe de auditoría (audit report), informe comercial (commercial report), informe de búsqueda (search report), informe sobre el estado de la técnica (prior art report) or informe (or dictamen) pericial (expert witness report).

But informe has a very special meaning in Spanish criminal procedure, referring to the closing statements or final oral argument offered at the end of certain criminal proceedings by the prosecutor (fiscal), defense attorneys (defensor del procesado, defensor del acusador particular y defensor del actor civil*) and the attorneys for the parties deemed to have incurred civil liability (personas civilmente responsables) during the commission of the offense. As provided for in article 734** of the Criminal Procedure Act (Ley de Enjuiciamiento Criminal), these closing statements should include, among others, a summation of the facts as found, a legal assessment of those facts to ascertain the offense committed and the extent of the accused’s participation (whether as principal or accomplice), mitigating or aggravating circumstances, if any, and a determination of any possible civil liability. Thus, in the context of criminal proceedings informe may be translated as “closing statements,” “final oral argument” or with a similar expression.

*For an explanation of the role of the actor civil in Spanish criminal proceedings see the previous post at https://rebeccajowers.com/2016/05/09/false-friends-4/

**En sus informes expondrán éstos los hechos que consideren probados en el juicio, su calificación legal, la participación que en ellos hayan tenido los procesados y la responsabilidad civil que hayan contraído los mismos u otras personas, así como las cosas que sean su objeto, o la cantidad en que deban ser reguladas cuando los informantes o sus representados ejerciten también la acción civil.

Legal Meaning of asistir

In his 1963 work “The Language of the Law,” the eminent legal linguist David Mellinkoff observed that legal discourse often uses “common words with uncommon meanings.” Indeed, in both Spanish and English, common words and expressions often take on unexpected meanings when used in legal contexts, and there are many simple, seemingly inoffensive everyday words and expressions that can prompt translation mistakes if their special legal meanings are ignored.  In this section I include some of the presumably simple legal English expressions that my students and translation clients have found most puzzling, along with a selection of legal Spanish terms that may stump translators when initially entering the legal translation field.

asistir

The common term asistir has a meaning in legal language that is fairly unknown to non-lawyers. In the rather formal expression “le asiste (a Ud.) el derecho,” asistir cannot be translated literally as “assist,” but rather has the peculiar meaning of disponer de un derecho. Thus le asiste el derecho suggests that “you have a legal right.” When the preposition “a” or “de” is added, the expression means “you have a right to” or “you are entitled to.” A few examples that I have come across in my translation work include le asiste el derecho a examinar el expediente (“you have the right to examine the case file”); le asiste el derecho a alegar por escrito lo que en su defensa estime conveniente (“you have the right to submit written allegations in your defense”) and le asiste el derecho de reclamación ante la Junta Arbitral de Consumo (“you have the right to file a complaint with the Consumer Arbitration Board”).

Legal Meanings of “bench”

In his 1963 work “The Language of the Law,” the eminent legal linguist David Mellinkoff observed that legal discourse often uses “common words with uncommon meanings.” Indeed, in both Spanish and English, common words and expressions often take on unexpected meanings when used in legal contexts, and there are many simple, seemingly inoffensive everyday words and expressions that can prompt translation mistakes if their special legal meanings are ignored.  In this section I include some of the presumably simple legal English expressions that my students and translation clients have found most puzzling, along with a selection of legal Spanish terms that may stump translators when initially entering the legal translation field.

bench

“Bench” has several meanings in legal contexts, both literal and figurative. In its literal sense, rather than sitting in individual seats (escaños) as do, for example, the diputados in the Congreso de los Diputados in Spain, in the UK Parliament’s House of Commons (Cámara de los Comunes) MPs (“Members of Parliament”) literally sit on benches. The first or “front row” of benches on either side of the aisle is reserved for ministers and leaders of the principal political parties. Thus the expression “front benchers” generally refers to government ministers and opposition leaders, while “back benchers” denotes MPs who often do not hold official positions in government or in their respective parties, and who literally sit on the back benches.

In other respects, in common law courts the seat of a judge has traditionally been referred to as the “bench,” (although in modern courts judges generally sit is overstuffed black leather chairs). Thus, when holding trial a judge wishing to confer with an attorney may indicate for him to “approach the bench.” In a figurative sense “the bench” often denotes all of the judges on a given court or the judiciary in general (la magistratura or la judicatura). In that regard, the expression “full bench” refers to el pleno del tribunal (or el tribunal en pleno), and “he has served on the bench for 15 years” means “ha ejercido de juez (or) magistrado durante 15 años.” “Bench trial” is a synonym of “nonjury trial” (juicio sin jurado), and the expression “bench ruling” (literally resolución dictada desde el estrado) may perhaps be used to describe what in Spanish practice is often called a sentencia in voce or sentencia de viva voz (i.e., an “oral judgment” or “judgment rendered in open court”). Likewise, in British usage a lawyer who has been appointed a judge is said to have been “raised to the bench” (nombrado juez, but literally, elevado a la judicatura).

 

Legal Meanings of “bar”

In his 1963 work “The Language of the Law,” the eminent legal linguist David Mellinkoff observed that legal discourse often uses “common words with uncommon meanings.” Indeed, in both Spanish and English, common words and expressions often take on unexpected meanings when used in legal contexts, and there are many simple, seemingly inoffensive everyday words and expressions that can prompt translation mistakes if their special legal meanings are ignored.  In this section I include some of the presumably simple legal English expressions that my students and translation clients have found most puzzling, along with a selection of legal Spanish terms that may stump translators when initially entering the legal translation field.

bar

In what is perhaps its principle legal meaning, “bar” denotes the legal profession or lawyers as a group and, in that regard, the expression “bar association” may be rendered as colegio de abogados. In order to be “admitted to the bar” (colegiarse), American attorneys must pass a bar exam in the state in which they intend to practice law (ejercer la abogacía). Thus in order to be a “practicing attorney” (abogado en ejercicio), a lawyer must first become a “member of the bar” (abogado colegiado), and in a lawyer’s resumé or CV (curriculum vitae) the expression “admitted (to the bar) in 2002” indicates that he passed the bar exam that year. Similarly, in England “bar” denotes barristers collectively, and “to be called to the bar” is to be admitted to the profession by one of the Inns of Court (professional associations for barristers). The “Bar Council” is the governing body of barristers for England and Wales. By extension, a “sidebar conference” is a courtroom discussion between the judge and the opposing attorneys conducted at the judge’s bench, out of the earshot of jurors.

But why does the term “bar” denote lawyers and the legal profession collectively? When I ask this question in class my students (all young Spanish lawyers who have seen many a US courtroom drama played out in TV series such as The Good Wife) often reply that when an American lawyer wins a case he and his colleagues always wind up celebrating their victory at a bar. But despite lawyers’ portrayed penchant for alcohol, the reason has historic roots. There has traditionally been (and still is) a partition such as a bar or railing in common law courtrooms, and only those participating in the trial (judge, lawyers, parties) are allowed “beyond the bar.”

In other respects, in nonlegal contexts “bar” is a synonym of “prohibition,” having the additional meaning of “legal impediment.” When a right can no longer be exercised because the term for doing so has elapsed, it is often said to be “time-barred.” Laws establishing a limitations period during which rights must be exercised are know as “statutes of limitations,” such as the Limitation Act 1980 of England and Wales. Thus, as with “time-barred,” the expression “statute-barred” indicates that by law a right can no longer be exercised. Both may be rendered in Spanish as prescrito/a. In that regard, and to provide a few examples, a “statute-barred (or) time-barred debt” is a deuda prescrita (or deuda que ha prescrito), while a “statute-barred (or) time-barred offense” is a delito prescrito (or delito que ha prescrito).  And “the appeal is statute-barred (or) time-barred” indicates that el recurso ha prescrito.

Legal Meanings of “back”

In his 1963 work “The Language of the Law,” the eminent legal linguist David Mellinkoff observed that legal discourse often uses “common words with uncommon meanings.” Indeed, in both Spanish and English, common words and expressions often take on unexpected meanings when used in legal contexts, and there are many simple, seemingly inoffensive everyday words and expressions that can prompt translation mistakes if their special legal meanings are ignored.  In this section I include some of the presumably simple legal English expressions that my students and translation clients have found most puzzling, along with a selection of legal Spanish terms that may stump translators when initially entering the legal translation field.

back

“Back” is used in several legal expressions with the meaning of atraso or atrasado. “Back orders” are pending orders that have not yet been filled (pedidos pendientes de servir). “Back taxes” refers to taxes that are due but that remain unpaid (impuestos devengados y no satisfechos). Similarly, “backpay” may denote accrued but unpaid wages (salarios devengados y no cobrados). In that regard, “backpay award” may denote a judge’s (or other official’s) ruling that an employee or ex-employee is entitled to accrued but unpaid wages. Thus, in Spanish labor procedure and in the context of a proceeding for wrongful dismissal (or) wrongful termination (despido improcedente) “backpay award” could be appropriately rendered as condena al pago del salario de tramitación.

Legal Meanings of “book”

In his 1963 work “The Language of the Law,” the eminent legal linguist David Mellinkoff observed that legal discourse often uses “common words with uncommon meanings.” Indeed, in both Spanish and English common words and expressions often take on unexpected meanings when used in legal contexts, and there are many simple, seemingly inoffensive everyday words and expressions that can prompt translation mistakes if their special legal meanings are ignored.  In this section I include some of the presumably simple legal English expressions that my students and translation clients have found most puzzling, along with a selection of legal Spanish terms that may stump translators when initially entering the legal translation field.

book; booking; to book

References to “books” in legal contexts often concern some aspect of accounting (contabilidad). For example, “accounting books” are obviously libros de contabilidad, while “book value” is valor en libros or valor contable. In that regard, “bookkeeping” (literally, llevanza de libros) is a common expression for the recording of accounting information, and “to keep the books” may be expressed as llevar la contabilidad. Thus, a person who keeps accounting records may be referred to as a “bookkeeper,” while the expression “double-entry bookkeeping” (or “double-entry accounting”) refers to the commonly accepted método de contabilidad de partida doble. In that regard, in this context the colloquial expression “to cook the books,” refers to falsifying financial information and is often expressed in Spanish as maquillar las cifras.

In other respects, in the context of securities law “book-entry securities” are valores representados mediante anotaciones en cuenta, and the dematerialized (uncertificated) “book-entry system” is known as sistema de anotaciones en cuenta. Thus Mercado de Deuda Pública en Anotaciones is a reference to Spain’s Government Book-entry Investment Securities Market.

And in criminal law contexts “booking” refers to entry on the police register of information concerning a criminal suspect who is being placed under arrest (fichar al detenido). The booking procedure of an arrestee (procedimiento de fichaje del detenido) typically includes taking his photograph and fingerprints (tomarle la fotografía y las huellas). Thus the expression “he was booked at the police station” means le ficharon en comisaría.