What are costas procesales ?

A translation client recently asked me what is meant by costas. Costas procesales are “court costs,” expenses arising in litigation, and in Spain include, among others, the following:

  • honorarios del abogado/letrado (attorney’s fees, also called “lawyer’s fees” or “legal fees”)
  • derechos del procurador (party agent’s fees)*
  • derechos de peritos (expert witness fees)
  • indemnizaciones a testigos (witness fees)
  • tasas judiciales (filing fees), and
  • derechos arancelarios de registradores y notarios (registrars’ and notaries’ fees—for certifications, certified copies, etc.)

It should be noted that in Spanish the losing party is “ordered to pay costs” (condenada en costas). But in English this concept is generally expressed from the perspective of the prevailing or successful party who is “awarded costs” (literally, premiada con las costas), which will be borne by the losing party. In this context, condena en costas may be rendered as “costs order,” “order for costs,” “order to pay costs,” or from the Anglo-American perspective, “award of costs.”

*For more ways to translate procurador see: https://rebeccajowers.com/2017/01/18/what-is-a-procurador/

Español Jurídico: What is competencia funcional ?

Competencia funcional has sometimes been rendered as “appellate jurisdiction,” and this may be correct in many contexts. However it should be noted that this definition is incomplete and may prompt a miscue or result in a mistranslation, since competencia funcional is actually a much broader concept, denoting the court of competent jurisdiction in each step in a legal proceeding, and not only at the appellate stage. Thus competencia funcional may refer not only to a court’s jurisdiction to hear appeals arising from a specific case (i.e., its “appellate jurisdiction”), but also to its jurisdiction to hear interlocutory motions (incidentes procesales) and enforcement proceedings (ejecución de sentencias). As explained in Thompson-Aranzadi’s Diccionario Jurídico,* “las normas de competencia funcional determinan qué juez o tribunal conocerá de los incidentes que se susciten en el proceso, de los recursos que se interpongan contra las sentencias y de la eventual ejecución de esas sentencias.”

*Juan Manuel Fernández Martínez, Coord. Diccionario Jurídico. Cizur Menor (Navarra): Thompson-Aranzadi, 2004.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read in the Press!

Dear Translator Colleagues: Don’t believe everything you read in the press! Get your Legal Spanish from reliable sources. Journalists, even those who specialize in periodismo judicial sometimes get it wrong. One of the most blatant errors that I’ve noticed lately in my readings is the use of the peculiar expression auto de acusación. Here’s what I mean:

  • La juez amplia la acusación en el caso de los aceites…*
  • contra el nuevo auto de acusación de la Juez podrá interponerse recurso de reforma en los próximos tres días.*
  • El Fiscal pide para él tres años y medio en la sombra y, en su auto de acusación, el Ministerio Público califica al ex directivo de “omnímodo”…**
  • Según el auto de acusación de la Fiscalía de Melilla…***

So what’s wrong here? Well, first of all, there is no such thing as an auto de acusación! An auto is a reasoned judicial decision (resolución judicial que necesariamente tiene que estar motivada). So obviously only judges can issue judicial decisions known as autos; prosecutors (fiscales; la Fiscalía; el Ministerio Fiscal) do not issue autos. In contrast, judges do not accuse: that’s the job of prosecutors in their escritos de acusación. As my maestro Professor Moreno Catena clearly explains “La acusación proviene de la parte acusadora; la imputación del órgano judicial que investiga; la defensa la ejerce el acusado-imputado; y la pena la impone el órgano que juzga.”****

Thus, judges (jueces o magistrados) imputan (ahora, investigan), procesan, juzgan, condenan (or absuelven) and imponen penas in their autos or sentencias. Prosecutors (fiscales) acusan in their escritos de acusación (never autos de acusación), also known in ordinary felony proceedings (proceso penal ordinario) as calificaciones provisionales.




****Víctor Moreno Catena and Valentín Cortés Domínguez, Derecho Procesal Penal. Madrid: Tirant lo Blanch, 2003, pp. 137-138.

What is a procurador ?

In most legal proceedings in Spain it is mandatory that a party be defended by an abogado (or) letrado (“lawyer;” “attorney”) and represented by a procurador who serves as a liaison between the lawyer, client and court, filing pleadings and other documents, receiving court orders and generally checking up on the status of the cases assigned to him. There is no equivalent in Anglo-American courts, and procurador has been mistranslated variously as “lawyer,” “attorney,” “barrister,” “solicitor,” “legal representative,” and even “paralegal” (!), among others.

But let’s look at some of these suggested translations. Procurador can’t be accurately rendered as either “lawyer,” “attorney” or “barrister” because, although procuradores hold law degrees, they do not defend clients in court as do lawyers/attorneys and barristers (as mentioned above, that’s the job of abogados/letrados). “Solicitor” is also a mistranslation when chosen to render procurador. If you need a contract drawn up, want to make a will or require legal counsel, in England and Wales you call a solicitor. Procuradores provide no such services. In fact, procuradores are generally hired by the lawyers themselves and rarely have direct contact with clients. “Legal representative” is also a poor choice, since the expression denotes any person who has been empowered to act on behalf of another, and is not necessarily a lawyer. Persons holding power of attorney (poder de representación) or appointed as executors (albacea) of a will are legal representatives. And as fully qualified lawyers procuradores certainly cannot be characterized as paralegals (con todos mis respetos por los paralegals).

Thus the difficulty is to find an appropriate translation for procurador, and I admit that over the years I have changed my mind a couple of times as to how to best render the term. I initially decided on “court representative,” but this translation may be misleading. Indeed, in the context of providing legal defense for a client in court, representación and “representation” are not cognates. In English (among many other meanings) “representation” refers to one’s being represented by a lawyer in court (“representation by counsel”). In Spain, however, representación generally refers to one’s being represented in court by a procurador, while representation by counsel (asistencia letrada) is known variously as defensa, defensa técnica, dirección técnica or sometimes asistencia técnica. A party is said to be representada en juicio por el Procurador de los Tribunales XXX y defendida (or) asistida por el Letrado YYY. Thus Spanish clients are “represented” in court by procuradores and “defended” by their abogados/letrados, and the expression representación y defensa is most often simply a synonym for procurador y abogado/letrado. In short, referring to procuradores as “court representatives” might prompt a miscue, since in Anglo-American courts lawyers both represent and defend their clients.

I later thought that perhaps “court agent” would be an appropriate rendering for procurador. But “court agent” might be interpreted to mean “agent of the court” suggesting that procuradores are actually personnel employed by the courts, which is certainly not the case. For now I have settled on “party agent,” (procuradores being agents who represent parties at court), but I am certainly aware that this expression doesn’t fully convey the meaning of the term (and I would welcome other suggestions!). Several colleagues have recommended adding a “Translator’s Note” indicating that procuradores are a feature of the Spanish judicial system and serve as intermediaries between lawyers and the court.

N.B. The Spanish procurador de los tribunales should not be confused with the term procurador as used in Mexico. In Mexico procurador is “prosecutor” (fiscal in Spain), and, thus, for US audiences and in this context the term is often rendered as “district attorney” or “D.A.”.


What is a voto particular ?

Voto particular is a “separate opinion” offered by a judge in response to the majority opinion of his colleagues in a judgment in a given case. The expression is often thought to refer exclusively to a judge’s disagreement with his colleagues and thus has been rendered on many occasions as “dissenting opinion.” However, voto particular may also denote a “concurring opinion” in which a judge agrees with the majority opinion but for different reasons. This distinction is made in Spanish by differentiating between voto particular disidente (or) discrepante (dissenting opinion) and voto particular concurrente (concurring opinion).

In other respects, in the language of court decisions formular voto particular disidente (or) discrepante is simply “to dissent,” while formular voto particular concurrente is “to concur.” Adherirse is used to denote a judge’s “joining” another’s opinion: adherirse al voto particular disidente/discrepante o concurrente (“to join a dissenting or concurring opinion”). Thus, for example, voto particular concurrente que formula el Magistrado D. Luis López Guerra al que se adhiere el Magistrado D. Tomás S. Vives Antón would appear in English as “Judge Luis López Guerra, with whom Judge Tomás S. Vives joins, concurring.” Likewise, in English an expression such as “Justice White, with whom Justice Blackmun and Justice Stevens join, dissenting” denotes a voto particular disidente (or) discrepante formulado por el Magistrado White, al que se adhieren los Magistrados Blackmun y Stevens.

Español jurídico: Difference between emplazamiento and citación

A translator colleague recently asked me what the difference is between emplazamiento and citación, given that both generally refer to a “summons”. Well the answer is right there in the terms themselves. In an emplazamiento the recipient is given a term (plazo) in which to respond to the content of the summons. That’s why an emplazamiento is the document served with a complaint (escrito de demanda), since the defendant has a legally-established term in which to file an answer (contestar a la demanda). In contrast, citación is generally a summons to appear in court (a “cita”), specifying the time and day that the recipient must comply. But unless a translation requires distinguishing between the two, they are both a “summons.”

Simple definitions of emplazamiento and citación appear in the Wolters Kluwer legal guides:

El emplazamiento junto con la citación son dos actos de comunicación de vital importancia, ya que son los actos de comunicación a través de los cuales el demandado va a poder entrar en el proceso, o bien personarse ante otra instancia. A diferencia de la citación en la que al demandado se le cita para que comparezca en un día concreto al juicio,… en el emplazamiento se le concede al demandado un plazo para que pueda personarse y contestar a la demanda presentada contra él.

Read more here: http://guiasjuridicas.wolterskluwer.es/home/EX0000012547/20080708/Emplazamiento


Personification in Legal Spanish

In Spanish certain legal concepts are customarily personified and, although not a mistranslation per se, when rendered literally such expressions may sound strange to native English speakers. One of the most common examples is the personification of the shareholders meeting in Spanish corporate documents. When reflecting decisions taken at a shareholders meeting, the minutes will, for example, typically indicate that the Junta General acordó un aumento de capital (or) ratificó el nombramiento de los consejeros. Rather than “the shareholders meeting approved (or) ratified…,” in English this would more likely be expressed as “The shareholders approved a capital increase” (or) “ratified the appointment of directors at the annual meeting.”

Likewise, in the context of parliamentary law, el constituyente often denotes a “constitutional convention (or) congress” (asamblea constituyente), rather than an individual member of that body. Thus, el constituyente de 1812 refers collectively to the assembly (Cortes de Cádiz) that drafted the Constitución de 1812, and el constituyente de 1978 denotes jointly the Spanish Parliament (Cortes Generales) and the people of Spain (in referendum) who approved Spain’s present Constitución de 1978. In this context, in addition to “constitutional assembly (or) convention” el constituyente might also be translated as “the drafters (or) authors of the Constitution.”

Similarly, the parliament, legislature or legislative branch of government is often personified as “el legislador,” which would sound strange if rendered literally as “the legislator.” Thus, medidas introducidas por el legislador refers to “measures adopted by parliament (or) the legislature,” and la reforma llevada a cabo por el legislador refers to a “legislative reform,” while the expression el legislador estatal distinguishes the central Spanish parliament (Cortes Generales) from the legislative assemblies of the Autonomous Communities, which are often referred to as “el legislador autónomico.” In addition, references to el legislador demócratico denote the present Spanish parliament under the post-Franco Constitution of 1978. In this and similar contexts, in addition to “the Parliament” or “the Legislature,” el legislador may also be rendered simply as “lawmakers.”