Don’t confuse orden de entrada y registro with orden de registro de entrada

orden de entrada y registro; orden de registro de entrada

These expressions are admittedly confusingly similar, but couldn’t be more different in meaning. Orden de entrada y registro (often shortened to orden de registro) is a criminal law term, being the Spanish equivalent of a “search warrant” ordered by a judge incident to a criminal investigation. Although orden de registro is a commonly used expression, in Spain a search warrant must be issued in the form of an auto, and thus is more properly called an auto de entrada y registro.

In contrast orden de registro de entrada denotes the order in which an application or other document has been filed for entry on an public register and is often important for establishing prior rights in many legal transactions. The “first to file” system is characteristic of many official registers governed by the prior in tempore, potior in jure principle. This idea of “earlier in time, stronger in right” implies that earlier applicants (the first to file their applications) will have superior (prior) rights with respect to those who do so later. For example, in the context of registering a trademark, the first application received (and subsequently granted registration) at the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office (Oficina Española de Patentes y Marcas) will have exclusive rights to use that mark.

Intellectual property and other rights can be based on the “first to use” principle or the “first to file” principle.” In “first to file” systems such as in Spain and most civil law countries, regardless of prior use the first person to file an application and to be granted registration will be considered as the legal owner to the exclusion of all others. Thus the order in which applications are received at public registries or in other governmental agencies is often of paramount importance. Registro de entrada denotes a daily register of applications filed, and orden de registro de entrada is the order in which a given application was received, generally based on a date, time and an application number. Thus the expression riguroso orden de registro de entrada de las solicitudes is often used to indicate that applications will be considered “strictly in the order in which they were filed.”

Legal Spanish Look-alikes: legítima defensa and autodefensa

These similar expressions reflect two very different legal concepts. En légitima defensa is the Spanish criminal law expression for “in self defense” and legítima defensa may contstitute a circumstance that exonerates one from criminal liability (eximente de la responsabilidad criminal). In that regard a person repelling an unlawful aggression (agresión ilegítima) in self-defense or in defense of his rights or the rights of others (en legítima defensa de la persona o de derechos propios o ajenos) may in certain circumstances be deemed free of criminal liability.

In contrast, in procedural terminology (derecho a la) autodefensa is a totally unrelated expresion denoting a party’s legally-established right (in limited cases) to represent himself at trial without the assistance of a lawyer or (in Spain) a procurador (litigar sin abogado o procurador). In the US this is known as “pro se (or) pro per representation,”* and in this context autodefensa denotes “pro se (or) pro per defense,” while el derecho de asumir (or) ejercer la autodefensa is expressed as the “right to proceed pro se (or) pro per.” In England and Wales “pro se litigation” is called “litigation in person,” and a “pro se (or) pro per litigant” is a “litigant in person.” “Self-represented litigant” and “unrepresented litigant” are additional variants.

And the idea that representing oneself in court may not be a good idea exists in both languages. Indeed, the well-known admonishment “he who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client” is often reflected in Spanish as quien se defiende a sí mismo tiene un tonto por cliente.

*pro se, Latin for “for oneself” or “on one’s own behalf;” pro per, a shortened form of the Latin expression in propria persona

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.”

Confusing Terms in Legal English: “executor” vs. “administrator”

As used in inheritance law (Derecho de sucesiones) these are related terms that are sometimes confused. An executor of a will is an albacea testamentaria, that is, a person appointed by a testator in his will to carry out its provisions upon his death. A female executor was formerly known as an “executrix” (plural: “executrices”), a term now considered archaic, “executor” now being the preferred English designation for albaceas testamentarias of both sexes.

In contrast, a person appointed by a court to manage the estate of an intestate decedent (causante muerto intestado) or when no executor has been appointed is called an “administrator” (in Spanish, albacea judicial or albacea dativo). Although “administrator” is now used for an albacea judicial of either sex, a female administrator was formerly known as an “administratrix” (plural: “administratrices”).

Legal English: Labor Law Look-alikes “Job Safety” and “Job Security”

The labor law look-alike expressions “job safety” and “job security” would appear to be synonymous and are sometimes confused in translation. But “job safety” refers to health and safety in the workplace, i.e., the proper conditions to ensure a worker’s safety on the job (in Spanish, seguridad en el trabajo). In contrast, “job security” refers to the probability that a worker will keep his job and to possible legal impediments that make dismissing workers more difficult or onerous for employers. Thus, “job security” in Spanish may be expressed as seguridad laboral, estabilidad laboral or estabilidad en el trabajo.

Confusing Terms: Translating desleal, deslealtad and infidelidad

literal translation just won't work

In legal contexts desleal, deslealtad and infidelidad are not always translated literally as “disloyal,” “disloyalty” or “infidelity.” As examples, competencia desleal refers to “unfair competition,” while in corporate law contexts administración social desleal o fraudulenta may denote some aspect of “corporate mismanagement or fraud.” In that regard, directors have a deber de lealtad (“fiduciary duty”) to act solely in the interest of their company, defined in the DEJ as la obligación de desempeñar el cargo de administrador atendiendo únicamente a los intereses de la sociedad. In this sense, deslealtad societaria refers to a director’s “breach of fiduciary duty” to the company.

Deslealtad also appears in the expression deslealtad profesional, which in Spain refers specifically to “professional misconduct” on the part of lawyers and procuradores who, for example, by action or omission prejudice their clients, or who defend interests contrary to those of their client.

The term infidelidad is also used in Spain in criminal law contexts in which it would be more accurately rendered as “breach,” rather than literally as “disloyalty.” Two specific offenses in which this might be the case are infidelidad en la custodia de presos (perhaps expressed as “breach of duty [or] misconduct in the custody of prisoners”) and infidelidad en la custodia de documentos y violación de secretos (which might be rendered as “breach of duty in the custody of documents and disclosure of privileged information”).

Legal Look-alikes: derecho de audiencia vs. “right of audience”

Legal _Look-alikes_

These look-alike expressions concern two different aspects of procedural guarantees. Derecho de audiencia (also known as derecho a ser oído) is a party’s “right to be heard” in judicial or administrative proceedings. As expresed in the American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct, “a judge shall accord to every person who has a legal interest in a proceeding, or to that person’s lawyer, the right to be heard according to law.” The Diccionario de Español Jurídico underscores that this is a principio general del Derecho según el cual nadie puede ser condenado sin ser oído y vencido en juicio; implica dar a las partes la oportunidad de intervenir en el proceso, con independencia de que la utilicen o no.

In contrast and especially in British English, “right of audience” denotes an individual’s right to speak on behalf of another person in court and, more specifically, a lawyer’s right to appear in court to represent and defend the interests of his client. In Spain (and, generally, in Spanish-speaking jurisdictions) all lawyers normally have right of audience (i.e., the traditional distinction between the roles of solicitor and barrister does not exist). “Right of audience” may be rendered in Spanish as derecho de actuar ante los tribunales.

Confusing Terms in Spanish-English Legal Translation: “national” isn’t nacionalista

Confusing Terms2

When recently reviewing a judgment* of the European Court of Human Rights, I realized that the Ministry of Justice’s Spanish version of that document confuses “national” with nacionalista. In English, when identifying a person’s country of origin, “national” means “citizen of:” “Paco Pérez, a Spanish national” = Paco Pérez, de nacionalidad española (or) Paco Pérez, ciudadano español, etc. In the judgment in question, the applicants were identified as “Hungarian nationals,” but appeared in the Spanish translation as nacionalistas húngaros (“Hungarian nationalists”). Perhaps this was some sort of Freudian slip, given the presence of nationalist political parties in the Basque Country, Catalonia, and elsewhere in Spain (whether the term nacionalista actually appears in the party’s name or not).

In other respects and as noted above, in Spanish contracts the ever-present de nacionalidad española is indeed used to indicate that a party to the agreement is “a Spanish national.” But the meaning may be slightly different when the parties are corporate entities rather than individuals. Empresa X, de nacionalidad española is obviously not “Company X, a Spanish national,” but rather “Company X, a Spanish corporation” or perhaps, adopting the expression often found in Anglo-American contracts, “a company incorporated under the laws of Spain.”

*Karácsony and others v. Hungary


Legal English Look-alikes: “bail,” “bailiff” and “bailment”

Legal _Look-alikes_

At first glance “bail,” “bailiff” and “bailment” would appear to be related terms, but actually they’re not!

“Bail” is perhaps the most easily recognizable of the three, being the English term for the fianza given by a criminal defendant to elude pretrial detention and be “released on bail” (salir en libertad con fianza*) while awaiting trial. In English we say that a judge “grants bail” (acuerda la libertad con fianza) and “fixes (or) sets bail” (fija la fianza), while the accused “posts bail (or) a bail bond” (presta fianza), and is thus granted “pretrial release” (libertad provisional). When bail is posted by a third party, a less formal expression is “to bail (someone) out of jail” is often used. Failure to comply with the terms of pretrial release is known variously as “jumping (or) skipping bail” (violar/quebrantar las condiciones de la libertad con fianza), which may result in forfeiture of the amount posted.

Bail’s look-alike “bailiff” denotes a court officer, generally in charge of maintaining order during court proceedings, but who may have other duties (depending on the jurisdiction), such as assisting a sheriff, serving process and executing court orders. Bailiffs also act as court criers, announcing the judge’s entrance in the courtroom (the famous “Oyez, oyez, oyez!” explained here). “Bailiff” is often rendered in Spanish as alguacil, a term that isn’t used in Spain where a court officer known as auxilio judicial keeps order in the courtroom when a judge requests him to do so (guarda la Sala bajo las órdenes del Juez).

And, finally, “bailment” is likewise totally unrelated to the previous two, being the English term for the Spanish contrato de depósito. The fact that these are kindred concepts is evidenced in a simple comparison of their definitions: Black’s Law Dictionary defines “bailment” as “delivery of personal property by one person (the bailor) to another (the bailee) who holds the property for a certain purpose under an express or implied-in-fact contract.” Similarly, as defined in the Spanish Civil Code, under a contrato de depósito, el depositante entrega una cosa mueble al depositario para su custodia y posterior restitución al depositante (a bailor delivers an item of personal property to a bailee for its safekeeping and subsequent return to the bailor).


*The expression that is perhaps most often seen is libertad BAJO fianza, although the term actually used in the Spanish Ley de Enjuiciamiento Criminal is libertad provisional CON fianza (arts. 505 and 539).

Confusing Terms: certificación; certificado; partida

Confusing Terms2

These three terms are all commonly used in Spain to denote “certificates” issued by the Registro Civil (“Civil Register,” “Bureau of Vital Statistics,” etc.). Thus, for example, a “birth certificate” may be variously referred to as a certificación de nacimiento, certificado de nacimiento and partida de nacimiento.

The term actually used in the Reglamento de la Ley del Registro Civil is certificación and, for example, a birth certificate is entitled “Certificación de Inscripción de Nacimiento.” Nevertheless, this and other certificates (de matrimonio, de defunción) are also called certificados in many official documents and on Spanish government websites.

Likewise, the expressions partida de nacimiento (or de matrimonio, de defunción) are widely used, albeit unofficially, to designate respectively a “birth certificate,” “marriage certificate” and “death certificate.” In that regard, partida originally denoted the entry on a church’s parish register of major life events (births, marriages and deaths) and, by extension, is often used informally to refer to data recorded on the Registro Civil. This is evident in the DLE’s definition of partida: registro o asiento de bautismo, confirmación, matrimonio o entierro, que se escribe en los libros de las parroquias o del registro civil.