Anglicismos in Legal Spanish: Do we really need them?

In a previous blog entry I reviewed some of the many “legal anglicisms” used when referring to cumplimiento normativo (“compliance”). This prompted me to make a list of others that I’ve come across in past translations. Just for fun, I’m listing 20 of the more obvious ones below, with a question for fellow translators and lawyers who follow this blog: Do these crop up in your translations too? Are there others that are more common? Do we really need them? If so, which are imprescindibles, and which aren’t? (Remember, I’m referring for “legal” anglicisms.) You can post your additions in the comments section below or send them to me at:

bullying (acoso escolar)

cash flow (flujo de caja)

commodities (matrias primas)

copyright (propiedad intelectual; Derecho de autor)

crowdfunding (micromecenazgo)

dumping (venta a pérdida)

franchising (franquicia)

fundraising (captación de fondos)

holding (sociedad tenedora de acciones; sociedad de cartera)

leasing (arrendamiento financiero)

lobby (grupo de presión)

mobbing (acoso laboral)

offshoring (deslocalización)

outsourcing (subcontratación)

royalty (derechos de autor; canon de franquicia)

sponsor (patrocinador)

staff (personal; plantilla; empleados)

stock (existencias)

target (objetivo; meta)

training (formación)

How to tame compliance-related “anglicismos gone wild”

In a recent tweet entitled “anglicismos gone wild,” Mariano Vitetta–@marianovitetta (EN-ES translator and law professor in Buenos Aires) featured an Argentine publication* in which the term “compliance” is used multiple times. Indeed, “compliance” is definitely one of those English terms that is often present in Spanish-language company law texts. For those who prefer to avoid anglicismos when possible, here are a few of the compliance-related concepts that Spanish law firms and some of my corporate clients use:

  • compliance; regulatory compliance—cumplimiento normativo
  • compliance audit—auditoría de cumplimiento
  • compliance complaint box—buzón de cumplimiento
  • audit and compliance committee—comisión de auditoría y cumplimiento
  • criminal compliance; compliance with crime detection and prevention rules—cumplimiento normativo penal
  • compliance and crime prevention—cumplimiento normativo y prevención de delitos
  • statement of IFRS compliance—declaración de cumplimiento con las NIIF
  • anti-corruption compliance model; crime prevention/deterrence model—modelo de cumplimiento normativo penal
  • chief compliance officer (CCO); compliance manager—responsable de cumplimiento normativo
  • compliance guidelines—programa de cumplimiento normativo
  • compliance unit—unidad de cumplimiento

*Jesús-María Silva Sánchez. “Criminal Compliance: Apuntes penales sobre el cumplimiento normativo.” Hammurabi—José Luis DePalma, Editor.

Legal Spanish: A finca isn’t always a farm!

Finca may, of course, refer to a farm or other rural property (finca rural), and may also denote parcels of land or buildings in a city (finca urbana). Moreover, the term is often used generally as a synonym for inmueble (land, real estate or real property). Some simple examples include:

  • compraventa de finca hipotecada (sale of mortgaged land/property),
  • finca arrendada (leased property),
  • arrendamiento de fincas (leasing of property/land),
  • servidumbre de paso en beneficio de fincas enclavadas (landlocked property easement; right-of-way to landlocked property), or
  • facultad de deslindar y amojonar fincas (right to survey and mark property boundaries)

But finca has a special meaning in the context of recording rights on the Registro de la Propiedad (Land Register), being the basic unit of recorded property. As the Enciclopedia jurídica explains,

finca registral es el bien inmueble que constituye la base física del sistema registral inmobiliario. La llevanza del registro gira alrededor de la finca, por lo que ésta se define también como lo que es susceptible de abrir folio o registro particular en los libros de inscripciones. La finca ingresa en el registro mediante la llamada inmatriculación, que conlleva la apertura de folio registral destinado a dicha finca. La finca inmatriculada recibe un número propio. En el asiento de primera inscripción se describe la finca y se inscribe el derecho de su titular dominical, el inmatriculante.

Here are a few examples of how finca is used in the sense of finca registral:

  • finca inscrita (recorded property)
  • inmatriculación de la finca (initial entry of a property the Land Register)
  • finca no inmatriculada (non-recorded property/land)
  • modificación de la finca inscrita (amendment of property records)
  • subsanación de la doble o múltiple inmatriculación de una misma finca (rectification of double or multiple entries of the same recorded property)

Legal Spanish: When cortes is not a “court”

The internet sources that translate las Cortes Generales literally as “General Courts” are too numerous to mention. The expression obviously does not refer to a court, but rather denotes Spain’s bicameral legislature, the Spanish counterpart of the US Congress or the UK Parliament, including the Congreso de los Diputados (lower house) and the Senado (upper house). Several of the legislative assemblies of the Spanish regional governments (comunidades autónomas) are likewise called “cortes” (Cortes de Aragón, Cortes de Castilla-León, Cortes de Castilla-La Mancha, Corts Valencianes). And, in this context, rendering cortes literally as “courts” could prompt a miscue, suggesting that the institution in question is part of the Spanish judiciary or court system, and not a legislative assembly.

In that regard, although corte is indeed a synonym for tribunal de justicia in many Spanish-American jurisdictions, as used in Spain and as noted above, cortes (in the plural) generally refers to a legislative assembly, courts of justice being designated variously as juzgado, tribunal, audiencia, órgano jurisdiccional or órgano judicial, depending on the context. Corte is indeed sometimes used in Spain to refer to international courts, such as the Corte Penal Internacional (International Criminal Court in the Hague), but it is just as frequently known as the Tribunal Penal Internacional. Thus, to preclude any confusion with the court system las Cortes Generales should obviously be translated as “the Spanish Parliament,” and the autonomous community cortes as “regional (or) autonomous community legislative assemblies.”

In other respects, it should nevertheless be noted that in English “court” may also denote a legislative assembly, and the bicameral legislatures of the states of Massachusetts and New Hampshire are indeed called the “General Court,” as were formerly the legislative assemblies of Vermont and Connecticut.

And, perhaps to add to the confusion, the “General Court” (formerly, the Court of First Instance) is one of two EU judicial bodies, which together with the Court of Justice of the European Union is tasked with ensuring uniform interpretation and application of EU law.

Impossible-to-Translate Criminal Law Terms: tipicidad; antijuricidad; culpabilidad; punibilidad

tipicidad; antijuricidad; culpabilidad; punibilidad

These criminal theory terms often appear to elude translation since they are not familiar concepts in Anglo-American law. Briefly, the Spanish system for determining criminal liability follows the tripartite German model and is accomplished in three successive steps. First the tipicidad of the act is established, i.e., a determination is made as to whether the alleged offender has fulfilled each element of the statutory definition of that specific offense (tipo penal). Among others, these include both the criminal act or actus reus element (tipo objetivo) and the mental or mens rea element (tipo subjetivo). The wrongfulness (antijuricidad) of the act is then assessed to determine whether the alleged offender’s act was wrongful (antijurídico, sometimes also translated as “unlawful”) and whether there are justification defenses (causas de justificación) that would render the act lawful. In a third step culpability or blameworthiness (culpabilidad) is examined to determine the alleged offender’s individual accountability for the offense and whether there are excuse defenses (causas de exculpación) which would exempt him from criminal liability. In Spain, a fourth element punibilidad (literally, “punishability”) is assessed to address individual cases in which certain offenders may be exempt from punishment.

It is often difficult to find suitable English translations for these four criminal law concepts, and I’ve found it helpful to turn to scholars who write about Spanish and German criminal law theory in English to see the terms they use. Here is a basic bibliography:

Bachmaier Winter, Lorena and Antonio del Moral García. Criminal Law in Spain. Alphen ann den Rijn: Kluwer Law International, 2010.

Bohlander, Michael. “Basic Concepts of German Criminal Procedure, An Introduction.” Durham Law Review Online, Vol. 1, 2011, pp. 1-26.

Bohlander, Michael. English translation of the German Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch). Saarbrücken: juris GmbH, 2010.

Bohlander, Michael. Principles of German Criminal Law. Portland: Hart Publishing, 2009.

Dubber, Markus Dirk. “Theories of Crime and Punishment in German Criminal Law.” The American Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 53, No. 3 (2005), pp. 679-707.

Dubber, Markus Dirk. “The Promise of German Criminal Law: A Science of Crime and Punishment” German Law Review, Vol. 6, No. 7 (2005), pp. 1049-1071.

Fletcher, George P. Basic Concepts of Criminal Law. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Fletcher, George P. y Steve Sheppard. American Law in a Global Context: the Basics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Gómez Jara, Carlos and Luis E. Chiesa. “Spanish Criminal Law” in Kevin Jon Heller and Markus D. Dubber, eds. The Handbook of Comparative Criminal Law. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2009, pp. 488-530.

Hermida, Julián. “Convergence of Civil Law and Common Law in the Criminal Theory Realm.” University of Miami International & Comparative Law Review, Vol. 13 (2005-2006) pp. 163-232.

Naucke, Wolfgang. “An Insider’s Perspective on the Significance of the German Criminal Law Theory’s System for Analyzing Criminal Acts.” Brigham Young University Law Review (1984), pp. 305-321.

Naucke, Wolfgang. “Interpretation and Analogy in Criminal Law.” Brigham Young University Law Review, Vol. 3 (1986), pp. 535-551.

Weigend, Thomas. “Germany” in Kevin Jon Heller and Markus D. Dubber, eds. Handbook of Comparative Criminal Law. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2011, pp. 252-287.

What is ajenidad ?

Yesterday in class a student asked me how to translate ajenidad, noting that it is not in my Léxico (another term I should add). Since she works in a labor law firm, I immediately recognized the context: here ajenidad is derived from the expression trabajo por cuenta ajena, describing the fact of working for an employer, under an employment contract. Thus, ajenidad (and trabajo por cuenta ajena) can be rendered simply as “employment” or “working under an employment contract,” as opposed to trabajo por cuenta propia, which is “self-employment.”

The above defines the concept of ajenidad laboral. But there is also an ajenidad penal in Spanish criminal law, which is one of the essential elements in the definition of hurto (theft). Article 234 of the Criminal Code defines hurto as “tomar las cosas muebles ajenas, con ánimo de lucro, y sin voluntad de su dueño.” In this context ajenidad del mueble is a required element of hurto, referring to the fact that the stolen goods must actually belong to someone else. The appropriation of abandoned or otherwise ownerless property is not an offense: [la ajenidad del mueble] supone que exista un propietario del bien mueble objeto del delito. No cometerá infracción penal quien toma una cosa que está abandonada, pues las cosas pueden adquirirse por ocupación cuando carecen de dueño.*

*Read more here

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)

Español jurídico: What are clases pasivas?

Clases pasivas (del Estado) is a broad term, referring to Spanish civil servants (funcionarios públicos) and their relatives or dependents (parientes o dependientes) who receive any type of pension or other benefit from the state, including retirees (jubilados), widows and widowers (viudas y viudos), orphans (huérfanos) or beneficiaries of disability pensions (beneficiarios de pensiones por incapacidad).

Despite this very specific meaning, classes pasivas has been translated multiple times literally as “passive classes,” even on official Spanish government, law firm and university websites. But this rendering is nonsensical and would obviously be meaningless to a US or UK lawyer or any other English-speaking audience unfamiliar with the Spanish civil service pension system. So, it’s worth the effort to avoid a literal translation and attempt to find something that actually reflects what clases pasivas means. Here are a couple of definitions:

Clases pasivas—Las personas que disfrutan de ventajas económicas por haber prestado servicios al Estado o por ser parientes o dependientes de los que fueron funcionarios, constituyen las “clases pasivas”. Dentro de éstas, los que fueron funcionarios se denominan “jubilados” o “retirados”, los familiares o dependientes de los que fueron servidores del Estado se denominan “pensionistas” o “pensionados”. (L. Ribó Durán. Diccionario de Derecho, Barcelona: Bosch, 2005)

Clases pasivas—Bajo esta denominación se califica el régimen de derechos de los funcionarios públicos (o sus causahabientes), una vez que cesan en la prestaciòn de sus servicios (jubilación, muerte). Su regulación se contiene en el Texto Refundido de la Ley de Clases Pasivas de 1987. (Juan Manuel Fernández Martínez, Diccionario Jurídico, Navarra: Thompson/Aranzadi (3rd ed.), 2004)

Based on these definitions, clases pasivas can perhaps be safely rendered as as “beneficiaries of civil service pensions” or “recipients of civil service benefits.”

Weird Legal Spanish: What is a causídico/a?

This fairly obscure term is sometimes used in Spain as a synonym for procurador/a, being defined in the DLE as procurador o representante de una parte en el proceso. As examples, se dio traslado al causídico… simply means that “the procurador was notified” about the matter in question. Apoderamiento del causídico denotes “power of attorney granted to the procurador, while designación de causídico mediante comparencia ante el Secretario Judicial is a reference to a client’s appointment (i.e., grant of power of attorney) to his procurador in person in the presence of a court clerk (known formally as designación apud acta), rather than by submitting a poder notarial (“notarial power of attorney”).

Español jurídico: What is a juez ordinario?

Legal Spanish for Translators

Texts concerning due process guarantees in Spain (known collectively as derecho a la tutela judicial efectiva de jueces y tribunales) often mention el derecho al juez ordinario. This has perhaps inevitably been translated literally as “ordinary judge,” but this rendering doesn’t really express the meaning of the term or its significance within the Spanish judicial system. In that regard, Article 24.2 of the Spanish Constitution guarantees the right to a juez ordinario predeterminado por la ley. The right to a judge predeterminado por la ley means that citizens will be tried by judges assigned to their cases following established case assignment rules, rather than by an ad hoc judge appointed to hear a specific case ex post.

This juez ordinario procedural guarantee goes hand in hand with the prohibción de tribunales de excepción contained in Article 117.6 of the Spanish Constitution, which precludes creating courts to adjudicate matters a posteriori outside of the ordinary court system.

The prohibition of ad hoc judges and courts can be considered an essential guarantee of any democratic system. But perhaps it is not surprising that this was included specifically in the Spanish Constitution of 1978, given that during the Franco regime from 1963 until two years after the dictator’s death in 1975, an ad hoc court (the Tribunal del Orden Público, or “TOP”) prosecuted what were considered political offenses against the Franco state.

It may also be useful for translators to note that in Spain civil, criminal, administrative and labor courts are classified as tribunales ordinarios, while the Constitutional Court (Tribunal Constitucional), Court of Audit (Tribunal de Cuentas), military courts (tribunales militares), and customary courts (tribunales consuetudinarios) are not considered as part of the ordinary court system (tribunales de la jurisdicción ordinaria).