What is Derecho de la persona?

Derecho de la persona

Derecho de la persona has sometimes been misunderstood and mistranslated variously as “personal law,” “rights of the person” and even “civil rights.” But Derecho de la persona (also called Derecho de las personas and Derecho de personas) is actually a major branch of civil law in civil code countries, governing a broad range of personal attributes. This “Law of Persons” has been defined as consisting of “all norms concerning the status of individuals and legal entities which are the subjects of the law.”* As an example, here are some of the main areas regulated in the Spanish Civil Code’s Libro Primero “De las Personas”:

  • Nacimiento—birth, including commencement of legal personality (comienzo de la personalidad) and acquisition of legal capacity (acquisición de la capacidad jurídica), defined as aptitud para ser titular de derechos y obligaciones.
  • Estado civil—civil status(es); often translated as “marital status,” but the expression is actually much broader and the appropriate translation may vary greatly, depending on context (more on on estado civil here).
  • Capacidad—legal capacity as defined above under nacimiento; plus capacidad de obrar, i.e., the ability to exercise legal capacity, that is, to exercise rights and assume obligations.
  • Incapacitación— including grounds for an adjudication of incompetence (causas de incapacitación) and incompetency proceedings (procedimiento de incapacitación).
  • Edad—age, including aspects of minority (minoría); means of emancipation (emancipación) and the legal implications of reaching the age of majority (alcanzar la mayoría de edad).
  • Nacionalidad—nationality and the means for acquiring citizenship (adquisición de la nacionalidad)
  • Domicilio—domicile or main residence (domicilio habitual efectiva)
  • Vecindad civil—regional domicile that determines whether a person is subject to general civil legislation (the Código Civil) or to specific local law (Derecho foral o especial) existing in certain Spanish regions.
  • Ausencia—long-term absence of missing persons (desaparecidos), who may be judicially declared ausentes so that in the interim a representative of their interests (representante del ausente) may be appointed by the court.
  • Declaración de muerte—declaration of the death of a missing person presumed dead

*Glendon, Mary Ann, et. al., Comparative Legal Traditions. St. Paul: West Group, 2015, p. 113.

If it’s Spanish, why does it look like German?

If it's Spanish, why does it look like German_

This has been bothering me for quite a while: I receive texts to translate from my Spanish lawyer clients and so many of the nouns are capitalized, that I think I’m reading a text in German! It doesn’t matter whether they are court pleadings or corporate documents, and this idiosyncrasy of legal Spanish is also widely present in many manuales de Derecho.

Legal Spanish style manuals warn against this practice. The Libros de estilo of both the Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Madrid* and the Centro de Estudios Garrigues** contain the following paragraph:

A pesar de que la costumbre o el deseo de enfatizar determinados conceptos tueden tentarnos a usar las mayúsculas, se escriben con inicial minúscula las siguientes palabras: acta, acuerdo administrador, balance, capítulo, comunidad autónoma, consejero delegado, contrato, convenio colectivo, departamento, despacho, diputado, director, empresa, entidad, estatutos sociales, gerente, grupo (de sociedades), informe, jefe de personal, jefe de sección, jefe de servicio, juez, junta general, magistrado, memoria, notario, propuesta, protocolo (notarial), sección, senador, sociedad, socio, tomo.

So the question is, should all such terms be capitalized in an English translation when they appear in caps in the Spanish original? Should we consider capitalized terms in Spanish as part of a document’s format (which we generally should try to duplicate when possible) and, for example, render generic uses of Juez as “Judge,” Tribunal or Sala as “Court,” Consejo de Administración as “Board of Directors” and Junta de Accionistas as “Shareholders Meeting”?

I don’t think so. Although such terms, even when used generically, are often capitalized in Spanish (whether this is appropriate or not), capitalizing them in an English translation may not be advisable for two reasons. First, since this is not customary in English, it may prove distracting to the reader. But more importantly, precisely since this is not customary, readers may think that the fact that a term is capitalized gives it a special meaning (such as capitalized terms have in English-language contracts). They may ultimately look for a special meaning in the capitalized terms that they really don’t have.

*Alberto Gómez Font and Francisco Muñoz Guerrero. Libro de Estilo del Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Madrid. Madrid: Marcial Pons, 2007.

** Alberto Gómez Font and María Peña Arsuaga. Libro de Estilo Garrigues. Cizur Menor (Navarra): Editorial Aranzadi, 2006.

It may not mean what you think! Legal meaning of vis-à-vis

The French expression “vis-à-vis” is used in English as a preposition with the meaning con respecto a; con relación a; en relación con, etc., as in “the workers’ position vis-à-vis their employer” (la posición de los trabajadores con respecto a su empleador) or “the value of the pound vis-à-vis the dollar” (el valor de la libra con relación al dólar).

But in Spain in the context of corrections law (Derecho penitenciario) vis-à-vis has a very peculiar meaning, denoting private visits (comunicaciones íntimas) with a spouse or partner afforded prison inmates under certain conditions. Family “vis-à-vis” (comunicaciones familiares and comunicaciones de convivencia) are also possible and encouraged. Read more here.

“Conjugal visit” is the expression most commonly used to describe private visits with prison inmates in the English-speaking jurisdictions in which they are permitted. In the US they are allowed in four states (California, Connecticut, New York and Washington). Read more here.

What is usufructo ?

ExpressingCivil LawConcepts

Usufructo, the right to use and enjoy the proceeds of another’s property for a given term, is one of the most common rights in property (derechos reales) present in civil code systems. The beneficiary (usufructuario) of a “usufruct” (as usufructo is known in Louisiana and in other English-speaking civil law jurisdictions) may use and enjoy the “fruits” (proceeds, profit, etc.) from the property, but without damaging or diminishing it. Article 467 of the Spanish Civil Code defines usufructo as the “right to use and reap the proceeds from another’s property with the obligation to preserve its form and substance, unless the instrument granting that right or the law provides otherwise” (derecho a disfrutar los bienes ajenos con la obligación de conservar su forma y sustancia, a no ser que el título de su constitución o la ley autoricen otra cosa). The property owner granting a usufruct is known as a nudo propietario (“naked owner,” similar to the common law “remainderman”).

There is no common law equivalent of usufructo, and if “usufruct” is not readily understood, the term may perhaps be rendered as “beneficial interest” or even “beneficial ownership,” given that “beneficial owner” is “one recognized as the owner of something because use and title belong to that person, even though legal title may belong to someone else” (Black’s Law Dictionary).

With that in mind, here are a few of the basic terms and concepts concerning usufructo with possible English translations:*

  • usufructo—usufruct; beneficial interest; beneficial ownership
  • usufructuario—usufructuary; beneficiary of a usufruct; beneficial owner
  • nudo propietario—naked owner; remainderman
  • usufructo sobre cosas inmuebles o muebles—usufruct/beneficial ownership of real or personal property
  • usufructo de derechos—usufruct/beneficial ownership of rights
  • usufructo simple—usufruct/beneficial ownership granted to a single person
  • usufructo múltiple—usufruct/beneficial ownership granted to two or more persons
  • usufructo simultáneo—simultaneous usufruct/beneficial ownership (enjoyed simultaneously by multiple beneficiaries)
  • usufructo sucesivo—successive usufruct/beneficial ownership (enjoyed by each beneficiary in succession)
  • usufructo propio; usufructo normal; usufructo de cosa no consumible—usufruct/beneficial ownership of non-consumable property (with the obligation to preserve its form and substance)
  • usufructo impropio; usufructo anormal; cuasiusufructo—usufruct/beneficial ownership of consumable property
  • usufructo voluntario—usufruct/beneficial ownership created voluntarily
  • usufructo legal—usufruct/beneficial ownership imposed by operation of law
  • usufructo puro—unconditional usufruct/beneficial ownership
  • usufructo condicional—conditional usufruct/beneficial ownership
  • usufructo a plazo—usufruct/beneficial ownership for a term
  • usufructo universal—usufruct/beneficial ownership of an entire estate
  • usufructo vitalicio—lifetime usufruct/beneficial ownership; usufruct/beneficial ownership for the life of the beneficiary; life estate; lifetime interest
  • usufructo viudal; usufructo del cónyuge viudo—surviving spouse’s usufruct/beneficial ownership; usufruct/beneficial ownership of a surviving spouse
  • usufructo testamentario—usufruct/beneficial ownership created by will
  • usufructo por prescripción—usufruct/beneficial ownership created by adverse possession

Source: Rebecca Jowers. Léxico temático de terminología jurídica español-inglés. Madrid: Tirant lo Blanch, 2015, pp. 767-769.

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.