Español jurídico: capacidad is “capacity,” right? (It may not be that simple!)

Confusing Terms2

“At first blush,” as they say, “capacity” would appear to be a logical translation for capacidad. But I recently saw “legal capacity” equated with both capacidad jurídica and capacidad de obrar (which are clearly not the same), so I thought it was worth exploring this matter in a little more depth.

Capacidad jurídica vs. capacidad de obrar

Capacidad jurídica and capacidad de obrar are civil law concepts from the Law of Persons (Derecho de la persona). Capacidad jurídica is defined as la aptitud para ser titular de derechos y obligaciones (por el solo hecho de ser persona y que comienza con el nacimiento y termina con la muerte del sujeto) no susceptible de restricciones o limitaciones. It is the capacity to have rights and obligations, to be the titular de derechos y obligaciones. Everyone born, and throughout their lifetime, has capacidad jurídica.

In contrast, capacidad de obrar is la aptitud para ejercer derechos y asumir obligaciones, susceptible de restricciones o limitaciones. This is the capacity to exercise the rights and assume the obligations that capacidad jurídica bestows on each person at birth. Mentally competent adults (mayores de edad no incapacitados) have this plena capacidad de obrar. Non-emancipated minors or adults adjudicated incompetent (menores no emancipados e incapaces) still have all of the rights inherent in capacidad jurídica but the exercise of those rights is susceptible to restrictions and limitations, requiring the consent or assistance of a representative, such as a parent or guardian (progenitor o tutor) to enable them to validly enter into legal transactions (realizar válidamente cualquier acto jurídico), i.e., to exercise their capacidad de obrar.

In view of the above, I think we can abandon hope of translating these concepts with simple two-word expressions. Capacidad jurídica may perhaps be rendered as “legal capacity,” but the context may require further explanation, such as noting that it is the “capacity to be the subject of rights and obligations acquired at birth.” And if capacidad jurídica is “legal capacity,” then capacidad de obrar is the “capacity to exercise legal capacity,” or perhaps (resorting to a definitional rendering) the “capacity to exercise rights and assume obligations.”

Capacidad para ser parte vs. capacidad procesal

These are often considered the procedural law counterparts of the Civil Code capacidad jurídica and capacidad de obrar. Capacidad para ser parte is defined as la capacidad para ser titular de derechos, obligaciones y cargas procesales como demandante o demandado en un proceso. In contrast, capacidad procesal refers to the capacity to actually appear at trial and fully participate in legal proceedings, defined as capacidad para comparecer en juicio y poder realizar actos procesales válidos. Examples of persons who lack this capacity to appear at trial include minors, the mentally incompetent, spendthrifts and the unborn (menores, incapaces, pródigos y los concebidos y no nacidos), who would have to appear at trial represented by a parent, guardian or a court-appointed guardian ad litem (progenitor, tutor o defensor judicial).

These concepts are equally difficult to render into English. Capacidad para ser parte might be described as the “capacity to be a party to a proceeding,” while capacidad procesal might be expressed as the “capacity to appear at trial,” neither of which admittedly reflects the complexity of the legal concept in Spanish. It should also perhaps be noted that capacidad procesal has sometimes been confused with “standing,” which in Spanish is legitimación, a term that may likewise warrant a future blog entry.

In summary, translators need to be aware of the differences between capacidad jurídica/capacidad de obrar and capacidad para ser parte/capacidad procesal, while hoping and praying that we never have to actually translate these concepts.

Incapacidad

In this context, perhaps we should also look at some of the terminology relating to “incompetency proceedings,” or what in Spanish law is known as the proceso de declaración de incapacidad. In this context, incapacitación and declaración judicial de incapacidad denote a judge’s “adjudication of incompetence.” And a “person adjudicated incompetent” (persona judicialmente incapacitada) is known as an incapaz (“incompetent”). As explained above, such persons cannot directly exercise their capacidad de obrar or capacidad procesal and must do so through a representative.

Other standard expressions with capacidad

There are several other expressions in which capacidad can probably be safely rendered directly as “capacity”:

  • capacidad para contratar; capacidad contractual (contractual capacity; capacity to contract)
  • capacidad matrimonial (capacity to marry)
  • capacidad para suceder (capacity to inherit)
  • capacidad para testar (testamentary capacity)
  • capacidad convencional (capacity to negotiate and enter into a collective bargaining agreement)

Sources for the definitions provided above: (the Spanish) Código Civil; Carlos Lasarte, Principios de Derecho Civil I, Madrid, Marcial Pons; (the Spanish) Ley de Enjuiciamiento Civil; and Víctor Moreno Catena, Derecho Procesal Civil-Parte General, Valencia, Tirant lo Blanch.

Additional concepts and terminology from Léxico temático de terminología jurídica español-inglés:

  • capacidad jurídica/capacidad de obrar (pp. 567-568)
  • capacidad para ser parte/capacidad procesal (pp. 123-124)
  • incapacidad; incapacitación (pp. 186-187; 568)

Español jurídico: What is a magistrado-juez?

Legal Spanish for Translators

In a previous post we looked at the term magistrado and saw why it cannot be translated as “magistrate.” But what about magistrado-juez? (A “judge-judge”?) For those unfamiliar with the Spanish judiciary, the term is certainly confusing. Having recently discussed this in class with my students, I thought it might be worth taking a look at it here in the blog.

The distinction between the two categories of Spanish judge (juez and magistrado) is quite clear: jueces sit on single-judge (usually) trial courts (juzgados; órganos unipersonales), while magistrados sit in panels on multi-judge (often) appellate courts (tribunales; órganos colegiados). Both can be rendered as “judge,” and the omnipresent expression jueces y magistrados is merely a reference to “judges” collectively or to the Spanish judiciary as a whole.

A magistrado-juez is a judge who has obtained the category of magistrado, but who sits on a single-judge court. A typical example are the magistrados-juez who sit on juzgados de instrucción, investigating and preparing the subsequent trials of major felonies (delitos graves).

Thus, if a definition is required, a magistrado-juez is a (senior) judge (magistrado) who sits on a single-judge court (juzgado; órgano unipersonal). But, once again, this distinction is not likely to be required in translation, and the term can usually be rendered simply as “judge.”

And, obviously magistrado-juez and “magistrate judge” are (big fat) false friends! As noted in the previous entry linked above, magistrado is a higher category of Spanish judge, while in England and Wales “magistrates” (also known as “justices of the peace”) are generally lay judges with no formal legal training. Likewise, in the United States federal system, there are “magistrate judges” who oversee civil and criminal pretrial matters and may conduct civil or criminal trials of misdemeanors (faltas; delitos leves), quite the opposite of the serious felonies investigated by Spanish magistrados-juez.

Español jurídico: Translating indefensión

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This term is often rendered literally as “defenselessness,” a word that certainly exists in English, obviously describing the state of being utterly defenseless. But “defenselessness” is perhaps an all-too-literal rendering for indefensión, which in addition to sounding somewhat unnatural, doesn’t really convey the meaning of the term in legal contexts.

Article 24.1 of the Spanish Constitution provides that todas las personas tienen derecho a obtener la tutela efectiva de los jueces y tribunales en el ejercicio de sus derechos e intereses legítimos, sin que, en ningún caso, pueda producirse indefensión. And the Spanish Constitutional Court has interpreted the term broadly as encompassing all of the Article 24 constitutional rights including el derecho al Juez ordinario predeterminado por la ley, a la defensa y a la asistencia de letrado, a ser informados de la acusación formulada contra ellos, a un proceso público sin dilaciones indebidas y con todas las garantías, a utilizar los medios de prueba pertinentes para su defensa, a no declarar contra sí mismos, a no confesarse culpables y a la presunción de inocencia.

Thus, indefensión denotes any circumstance that deprives a party of the possibility of defending himself at any time and in any way during the judicial process. Thus, rather than “defenselessness,” indefensión may perhaps better be rendered as “denial of a means of defense,” “denial of justice,” or in view of the Article 24 guarantees involved, “denial of due process.”

Read more here

Español jurídico: Translating causante

Legal Spanish for Translators

In the context of inheritance law (Derecho de sucesiones) causante has a particular meaning that is sometimes overlooked in translation. In its broadest sense (persona de quien otro deriva su derecho), causante is often rendered as “predecessor in title,” a translation that may certainly be appropriate in other circumstances. But in the context of the law of succession, causante more specifically denotes the “deceased” or “decedent.”

Causante has likewise been confused with testador (persona que hace testamento) and translated as “testator,” when the terms are clearly not the same. A causante was obviously a testator if he made a will before his death, but a testador is not a causante until he dies (giving causa or origin to the right to inherit his estate.) In this sense, causante es la persona que por su fallecimiento origina automáticamente la apertura de la sucesión. And of course a causante (“decedent,” “deceased”) was not a testator if he failed to leave a will and, thus, died intestate (murió intestado). In addition to causante, other terms sometimes used to denote a “decedent” or “deceased” include difunto, finado and the Latin expression de cuius.

(Definitions are from the Diccionario Jurídico Colex, Madrid, 2003)

Español jurídico: What is a contrato de comisión?

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It is sometimes wrongly assumed that the expression contrato de comisión refers exclusively to an agreement whereby an employee, agent or representative works solely on commission (trabaja a comisión) rather than receiving a fixed salary or other compensation. In that regard, contrato de comisión has at times been erroneously translated as a “sales commission agreement” or “commission-only agreement.”

But the Spanish Commercial Code’s contrato de comisión doesn’t necessarily denote “working on commission,” but rather is a type of agency agreement in which a principal (comitente) commissions an agent (comisionista) to carry out a specific commercial transaction on his behalf (the comisión). In that regard, the contrato de comisión may be considered the Commercial Code counterpart of the Spanish Civil Code’s contrato de mandato in which a principal (mandante) commissions an agent (mandatario) to perform a specific service (mandato). Depending on the context, both contrato de comisión and contrato de mandato can often be described in English simply as “agency agreements.”

Thus, in many contexts comitente, mandante and principal can generally be translated as “principal,” while comisionista, mandatario, agente and often gestor can be rendered as “agent.” If it is necessary to distinguish between the Commercial Code and Civil Code counterparts, a contrato de comisión might be described as a “commercial agency agreement” or “Commercial Code agency agreement,” while contrato de mandato might be rendered as “Civil Code agency agreement” or an “agency agreement governed by the Civil Code.” And of course, depending on the terms of the contrato de comisión, a comisionista may or may not “work on commission” (trabajar a comisión).

In other respects, contrato de agencia (“agency agreement”) is likewise used in Spain, having been formally defined in the Agency Agreement Act (Ley 12/1992, de 27 de mayo, sobre Contrato de Agencia), which incorporated into Spanish law the provisions of Directive 86/653/EEC of 18 December 1986 on the coordination of the laws of EU Member States relating to self-employed commercial agents.

Read more here

Español jurídico: What is tácita reconducción?

Weird Words You Need to Know

This strange, seemingly cryptic expression is defined in the RAE’s Diccionario del Español Jurídico como prórroga del contrato de arrendamiento de fincas rústicas o urbanas que se produce cuando, una vez terminado el contrato hecho por tiempo determinado, permanece el arrendatario disfrutando quince días de la cosa arrendada con aquiescencia del arrendador.* In that regard, reconducción refers specifically to prórroga de un arrendamiento (DLE).

Tácita reconducción has often been translated literally as “tacit renewal,” described as “renewal by default” or, perhaps in more idiomatic English, rendered as “automatic renewal (of a lease).” But it should be noted that all of these translations are actually inaccurate, confusing prórroga (“extension”) with renovación (“renewal”). Thus tácita reconducción more appropriately denotes the “automatic extension” of a lease (if, as indicated in the DEJ’s definition above, fifteen days after the contract expires neither party has given notice of termination to the other).

*Código Civil, arts. 1566-1567.

Translating Spanish Criminal Procedure: actor civil

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In Spanish criminal procedure actor civil refers to a party to a criminal proceeding who is seeking compensation for damages for civil liability arising out of the criminal act being tried. In Anglo-American jurisdictions claims for compensation for damages arising from criminal offenses are typically filed in a separate civil suit and, thus, the role of the actor civil in the Spanish criminal process may often be unclear to English-speaking audiences. In brief, in Spain claims for compensation for damages arising during the commission of a crime (reclamación de la responsabilidad civil derivada de la comisión de un delito) are usually tried simultaneously with the prosecution of criminal defendants during criminal proceedings. Actor civil designates the party who enters an appearance in a criminal proceeding to file a claim for damages in what amounts to a civil liability action conducted simultaneously with (or within) a criminal procecution.

Thus, civil and criminal liability may be determined in the same proceeding if the actor civil enters an appearance and asks to be acknowledged as a party to the criminal proceedings as a plaintiff claiming damages based on the same incident for which a conviction for criminal liability is being sought (la parte solicita que se la tenga por personada en el procedimiento en calidad de actora civil). And in perhaps most cases the victim and and person seeking civil redress are the same.

Actor civil has often been rendered literally as “civil plaintiff” or “civil claimant,” translations that perhaps fail to reflect the fact that the expression actually denotes a party to a criminal proceeding. And, indeed, since this “civil action within a criminal trial” concept will perhaps be foreign to English-speaking audiences, actor civil may require a more detailed descriptive translation such as “party claiming civil damages in a criminal proceeding.” In other respects, the civil claim heard during a criminal trial is often referred to as a proceso civil acumulado, precisely because it is, in effect, a civil action joined or consolidated with (within) a criminal procecution.

Read more here: Víctor Moreno Catena and Valentín Cortés Domínguez. “El llamado ‘actor civil’ en el proceso penal.” Derecho Procesal Penal. Valencia: Tirant lo Blanch, 2005, p. 125 ff.