False Friends: When comisión isn’t “commission”

false friends fridays

Comisión may certainly be translated as “commission” in many legal contexts. A primary example is Spain’s Comisión Nacional del Mercado de Valores, which following the model of the US Securities and Exchange Commission may be appropriately rendered as the (Spanish) “National Securities Market Commission.”

But rather than “commission,” comisión often refers to a “committee” and must be translated as such. This is particularly true in corporate law contexts where much of the work of the boards of directors (consejos de administración) of large Spanish corporations is often handled in a series of committees including, among others, a Comisión Ejecutiva (“executive committee”), Comisión de Auditoría (“audit committee”), Comisión de Nombramientos y Retribuciones (“appointments and remuneration [or] compensation committee”), Comisión de Buen Gobierno (“corporate governance committee”), or some combination of the above.

Likewise, in parliamentary practice the work of the Spanish Parliament (Cortes Generales) is conducted in various committees called comisiones parlamentarias, which are either comisiones permanentes (“standing committees”) or comisiones no permanentes (“ad hoc committees”). Each house of parliament has its own committees (comisiones del Congreso; comisiones del Senado) divided into “legislative committees” (comisiones legislativas) and non-legislative committees (comisiones no legislativas). There are also “joint committees” of the House of Deputies and Senate (comisiones mixtas del Congreso y del Senado).

In other respects, comisión de servicios is an expression in which comisión cannot be translated as either “commission” or “committee.” As used in Spain, comisión de servicios refers to the temporary transfer of a civil servant (funcionario) from his normal duties to serve in another sector of the civil service (función pública). Thus, estar en comisión de servicios means to be “on assignment” or “on loan” from another civil service department. This is also expressed (especially in BrE) as “being on secondment:” Está en comisión de servicios en el negociado de documentación (“He is on secondment to the document department”).

For an additional instance in which comisión and “commission” are not cognates, see this previous entry on contrato de comisión.


Derecho (civil) común, the Common Law of Spain


English or Anglo-American common law is often referred to in Spanish as Derecho anglosajón and, indeed, it is misleading to translate “common law” literally as Derecho común. In that regard it is important to note that in Spanish legal texts the expression Derecho común probably isn’t a reference to English or Anglo-American “common law,” but rather most likely denotes the “common law” of Spain, i.e., civil law, or the law of the Spanish Civil Code (Código Civil).

By virtue of their vecindad civil (“regional domicile”) Spaniards are subject to either Derecho (civil) común (the common law of the Civil Code) or Derecho (civil) foral o especial (local law). In that regard, an expression such as el presente contrato se rige por el Derecho común español implies that “the present contract is governed by the Spanish Civil Code.” In the context of sources of business law (fuentes de Derecho mercantil), transactions not covered by the Commercial Code (Código de Comercio) are likewise governed by Derecho común, once again being a reference to the law of the Civil Code: En ausencia de normas mercantiles se aplica el Derecho común, esto es, el Derecho civil. And an expression such as las CCAA de régimen común likewise refers to the “Autonomous Communities subject to civil law (or) the Civil Code, rather than to Derecho foral o especial (local law).

In summary, unless the context suggests otherwise, in Spanish legal texts Derecho común denotes Spain’s common law (the Civil Code). If not clearly a mistranslation, rendering Derecho común in this context as “common law” might prove to be a miscue, prompting readers to assume that the reference is to English or Anglo-American “common law.” Thus, in this case Derecho común is perhaps best rendered as “(Spanish) civil law” or the “law of the (Spanish) Civil Code.”

More here on vecindad civil and the regions in Spain that have their own local law (Derecho foral o especial).

Legal Look-alikes: When “evidence” isn’t evidencia

Legal _Look-alikes_

In the context of Spanish procedural law, “evidence” cannot usually be rendered as evidencia, but rather refers to prueba(s). After the parties’ initial “proposal of evidence” (proposición de la prueba), the judge will issue a “ruling on the admissibility of the proposed evidence” (resolución sobre la admisibilidad de las pruebas propuestas). In this context, inadmisión de los medios de prueba denotes a judge’s “exclusión of evidence” and práctica de la prueba refers to the “examination of evidence” at trial. Specific types of evidence (medios de prueba) include, among others, prueba testifical (“testimonial evidence,” “witness testimony”); prueba documental (“documentary evidence”) and prueba pericial (“expert evidence,” “expert witness testimony”).

Although the terminology of evidence is quite extensive, common classifications include prueba pertinente/impertinente (“relevant/irrelevant evidence”), prueba útil/inútil (“material/immaterial evidence,” in the sense of being appropriate or inappropriate for demonstrating the fact that it is intended to prove), and prueba directa or prueba presencial (“direct evidence, “eyewitness evidence”) as opposed to prueba indirecta or prueba indiciaria (“indirect evidence”or “circumstancial evidence”). In Spanish criminal procedure the expression prueba preconstituida denotes documented evidence existing prior to trial, which cannot be reproduced and examined later during the trial itself. Typical examples include “crime scene inspections” (inspecciones oculares en el lugar del delito); “autopsies” (autopsias), “breath alcohol tests” (pruebas de alcoholemia), and “police lineups” (ruedas de reconocimiento), called “identity parades” in BrE. In contrast, prueba anticipada refers to “evidence taken prior to trial” by the criminal trial judge, in the presence of all parties and under extraordinary circumstances (such as taking testimony from a terminally-ill witness who might not be able to testify in court at a later date).

Likewise in criminal procedure contexts, prueba obtenida ilícitamente is “illegally-obtained evidence,” while prueba prohibida specifically denotes “evidence obtained in violation of fundamental rights” (pruebas obtenidas, directamente o indirectamente, violentando los derechos o libertades fundamentales). And prueba de cargo is “incriminating evidence” as opposed to prueba de descargo (“exculpatory evidence”).

More ES-EN Legal False Friends: falta isn’t always “fault”

false friends fridays

In legal contexts there are several instances in which “fault” may be an inappropriate translation for falta. In criminal law, faltas may denote “misdemeanors” (minor criminal offenses), which are now called delitos leves in Spain. Falta may likewise have the meaning of “defect,” as in falta subsanable de un título presentado para su inscripción en el Registro, in reference to a “curable defect in a document presented for entry on the Register.”

In other respects, falta de often denotes a “lack of” something, and is thus rendered in multiple legal expressions such as falta de legitimación (“lack of standing”), falta de competencia (“lack of jurisdiction”), falta de pruebas (“lack of evidence”) or falta de diligencia o cuidado (“lack of diligence or care”).

And, similarly, falta de may also mean “failure to” do something, as in falta de pago de la prima (“failure to pay a premium”); falta de avenencia entre las partes (“parties’ failure to reach a settlement”); falta de personación en el procedimiento (“failure to enter an appearance in the proceedings”) ; falta de presentación de la declaración tributaria (“failure to file a tax return”), or falta de contestación a la demanda (“failure to answer the complaint”).

False Friends in Criminal Procedure: arresto vs. arrest and detención vs. detention

Spanish-English Crimpro Terms

Arresto and “arrest” are often false friends, since in criminal procedure “arrest” is generally rendered in Spanish as detención, and “to arrest” or “to make an arrest” is detener: “the suspect was arrested” (se detuvo al sospechoso). In that regard “arrest warrant” is orden de detención or, perhaps more accurately for Spain, auto de detención (since judges issue arrest warrants in the form of an auto). A person who is “under arrest” (que está detenido) is often known (particularly in AmE) as an “arrestee” (el detenido) and will have an “arrest record” (ficha policial or antecedentes policiales). In that regard, the expression “arrestee rights” (known in the US as “Miranda rights”) denotes los derechos del detenido and include the “right to remain silent” (el derecho de guardar silencio), the “privilege against self-incrimination” (derecho a no declarar contra sí mismo y a no confesarse culpable) and the “right to counsel” (el derecho a la asistencia letrada).

In contrast, in Spain arresto is most often used in military law contexts to denote the arrest of military personnel (arresto en prisión militar), but there are several exceptions. Arresto sustitutorio (por impago de multa) describes a custodial sentence (pena privativa de libertad) to be served for failure to pay a fine imposed as the result of a criminal conviction. And arresto was likewise previously used in expressions such as arresto domiciliario (“house arrest”) and arresto de fin de semana (“weekend arrest”), two former custodial sentences that under the present Spanish Criminal Code are known as pena de localización permanente and generally require the offender to wear some type of electronic monitoring device such as an ankle monitor, known in Spain as a pulsera (or) tobillera telemática.

As for “detention,” the term is used in the common expression “arrest and pretrial detention.” Here “arrest” denotes detención, while “pretrial detention” (also called “pretrial custody”) refers to prisión provisional (or) preventiva. Thus, “arrest and pretrial detention” may be rendered as detención y prisión provisional (or) preventiva. And, in other respects, the Spanish criminal law offense of detención ilegal is akin to the concept of “false imprisonment” of Anglo-American jurisdictions.

False Friends in ES-EN Legal Translation: is elevar really “elevate”??

False Friends Fridays new

In legal usage elevar has several different meanings, none of which is the literal “to elevate.” The most common translation of elevar in legal (and other) contexts is simply “to raise” (being synonymous with subir): El Ministerio del Interior está estudiando elevar la edad para conducir ciclomotores (“The Interior Ministry is studying the possibility of raising the age for driving motorbikes.”); El BCE confirma que volverá a elevar los tipos… (“The ECB confirms that it will once again raise interest rates…”).

Elevar has the additional meaning of “to submit a petition or proposal” (elevar una petición o propuesta). Thus, for example, elevación de las cuentas anuales para su aprobación por la Junta General de Accionistas refers to “submitting the annual accounts for approval at the annual shareholders meeting.”

In other respects, in Spanish felony proceedings (procedimiento penal ordinario) elevar a definitivas has a peculiar meaning, referring to the ratification of the prosecution’s initial accusation and the defense’s initial defense (collectively called calificaciones provisionales). At the end of a criminal trial and after evidence has been examined, the attorneys for the prosecution and defense may then amend their initial pleadings in written closing arguments called conclusiones based on the events that transpired at trial, or they may “ratify their initial accusatory and defensive pleadings” (elevar a definitivas las calificaciones de fiscal y defensa), which are then known as calificaciones definitivas.

Special mention should perhaps also be made of the omnipresent expression elevar a público that is sometimes mistranslated simply as “to make public” (which would be more appropriately rendered as publicar or hacer público). Elevar a público is indeed much more than merely publicizing an act or event, being an ellipsis for elevar a público un documento privado (meaning “to notarize,” “to record in a notarial instrument” or “to formalize in a notarial document”). In that regard, elevación a público refers to the procedure of appearing before a (civil law) notary to execute a private document, contract, etc. so that it may be recorded in a notarial instrument (escritura pública) to be preserved in his or her notarial records (protocolo). Thus, for example, elevar a público el nombramiento del administrador does not denote “making the director’s appointment public” (as the expression has sometimes been rendered),but rather “recording the director’s appointment in a notarial instrument.”

False Friends: el magistrado más moderno may not be modern at all!

Oh, no! False Friends

When describing the Spanish judiciary, there is a peculiar context in which the adjective moderno cannot be rendered as “modern,” and failure to recognize that fact could prove a source of serious translation mistakes. For example, the expression magistrado más moderno de la Sala Primera del Tribunal Supremo does not refer to the most modern or fashionable of the judges, but rather to the “judge with the least seniority in the Civil Division of the Supreme Court.”

“Seniority” is of course antigüedad, and magistrado más moderno denotes the judge with the least seniority (but not necessarily the youngest) on a given court or among a panel of judges, while magistrado más antiguo describes the judge with the most seniority (but not necessarily the oldest).

In Spain judges’ seniority is determined each year in the Escalafón de la Carrera Judicial (Career Judges Seniority Ranking), prepared by the Comisión Permanente del Consejo General del Poder Judicial (Standing Committee of the General Council of the Judiciary). And being the más moderno is significant in many instances. As an example (there are many others), regarding deliberations and voting to reach a decision and render judgment, the Ley Orgánica del Poder Judicial provides that concluida la discusión de cada asunto, se procederá a la votación, que comenzará por el Juez o Magistrado más moderno y seguirá por orden de menor antigüedad, hasta el que presidiere (Art. 157).


Another Pair of Legal False Friends: distracción and “distraction”

false friends fridays

distracción; distraction

There are legal contexts in which these terms may indeed be cognates when they denote a “loss of focus, attention or interest,” as in distracción del conductor al volante, referring to a driver becoming distracted while driving (“distraction at the wheel”).

But in Spanish criminal law distracción is also used in academic writing to denote the fraudulent taking of money or property, often as a synonym for malversación or appropiación indebida (“embezzlement” or “misappropriation”). Thus, as examples, the offense of malversación (or) distracción de caudales públicos on the part of a civil servant (funcionario) may perhaps be rendered as “embezzlement of public monies (or) funds,” while a company director’s distraccion de dinero o activo patrimonial may describe the “misappropriation of corporate monies or assets.”

In other respects, in the offense of distracción del curso de las aguas, the term distracción refers to the “unlawful diversion of water from its natural course.” This has been described variously in English as “water theft” or “illegal tapping of water supplies,” and in US state criminal codes often falls under the offense of “defrauding (or) unlawfully interfering with a public utility.”

False Friends (or not?): contaminación; contamination

false friends purple

When referring to certain types of damage to the environment (daños medioambientales), these terms are often cognates, as in contaminación medioambiental (“environmental contamination”) or contaminación radioactiva (“radioactive contamination”).

But in this same context contaminación is just as often rendered as “pollution” rather than “contamination.” “Environmental pollution” and “radioactive pollution” are quite common, as are similar expressions such as contaminación atmosférica (“air pollution”), contaminación de las aguas (“water pollution”), contaminación acústica (“noise pollution”) and contaminación lumínica (“light pollution”). Likewise, in this context contaminantes may be rendered as “contaminants” or “pollutants.”

In other respects, “contamination” is used in criminal forensics in expressions such as “contamination of evidence” or “contamination of DNA samples.” These may be rendered respectively as contaminación de pruebas and contaminación de muestras de ADN.

And, as a final example, lately in the Spanish press, journalists who disagree with judicial decisions often use the term jueces contaminados. In English the expression “contaminated judges” generally denotes judges who have a conflict of interest or who have already been involved or ruled on a related case. In contrast, in Spain jueces contaminados appears to be a term intended to accuse judges of a lack of impartiality when adjudicating politically sensitive matters.

False Friends: When información isn’t simply “information”

False Friends Fridays new

There are several instances in legal Spanish in which “information” may not be the most appropriate translation for información. In the context of securities law, información privilegiada refers to “insider information,” while uso de información privilegiada denotes “insider trading (or) dealing” and normas sobre información privilegiada are “insider trading rules.”

In the context of corporate law, obligación (or) deber de información is not merely an “obligation to provide information” as the expression has sometimes been translated literally, but rather refers to “disclosure requirements” imposed upon publicly-traded companies pursuant to Spain’s Ley del Mercado de Valores (“Securities Market Act”).

And in the context of administrative law and urban planning, trámite de información pública refers to a legal requirement that information concerning certain public works projects be made available to the public to enable private citizens to present their opinions or objections (called alegaciones) before the project is implemented. In the UK this type of trámite de información pública is known as a “public consultation.” In that regard, the seemingly cryptic expression sacar el proyecto a información pública merely means “to submit the project to public consultation.”