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

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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”

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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

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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”

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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.”

False Friends Fridays: imposición and “imposition”

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In legal contexts imposición (and imponer) can rarely be rendered literally as “imposition” (or “to impose”). In banking law imposición refers to a “deposit,” as in fecha de imposición (“deposit date”); imposición a plazo fijo (“time deposit”); imposición minima (“minimum deposit”) or “imposición en efectivo (“cash deposit”). In the context of tax law imposición denotes “taxation:” imposición directa (“direct taxation”); imposición indirecta (“indirect taxation”); doble imposición (“double taxation”) or convenio de doble imposición (“double tax treaty,” “treaty for the avoidance of double taxation”).

In procedural law imposición de costas is a court’s “award of costs.” Se imponen a la parte demandada las costas indicates that the “defendant is ordered to pay (the plaintiff’s/claimant’s) costs,” usually expressed in English from the perspective of the successful party, in this case as “plaintiff/claimant is awarded costs.” And in the context of criminal law, imposición de la pena refers in general to “sentencing,” as in imponer pena de prisión (“to sentence to prision,” “to impose a prison sentence”); imponer pena de multa (“to fine,” “to impose a fine”) or imponer la pena de privación del derecho de conducir (“to suspend/ revoke a driver’s license,” “to disqualify from driving”).

False Friends Fridays: adhesión; adhesion (and the verbs adherir; adhere)

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Adhesión and “adhesion” may be cognates in an expression such as “adhesion contract” (contrato de adhesión). But in the sense of adhesión a un tratado, adhesión is more appropriately rendered as “accession,” as in acuerdo de adhesión (“accession agreement”) or la adhesión de España a la CEE (“Spain’s accession to the EEC”). In this case the appropriate verbs are adherir and “accede:” Estados miembros que se han adherido a la Unión Europea (“Member States that have acceded to the European Union”).

In other respects, in the language of court decisions 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 don Luis López Guerra y al que se adhiere el Magistrado don Tomás S. Vives Antón refers to a “concurring opinion filed by Judge Luis López Guerra in which Judge Tomás S. Vives Antón joined.” 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.

In an additional context, in Spain’s former Civil Procedure Act (Ley de Enjuiciamiento Civil de 1881) the successful party to a lawsuit could join the losing party’s appeal (called adherirse a la apelación) to challenge some aspect of the judgment being contested. In the present Civil Procedure Act (Ley 1/2000) adhesión a la apelación has been replaced by the concept of impugnación del recurso. In that regard, once the appellant (apelante) has filed his appeal, the appellee or respondent (apelado) may file a brief opposing the appeal (escrito de oposición al recurso) or, if warranted, a brief challenging specific aspects of the appeal that he deems prejudicial to his interests (escrito de impugnación de la resolución apelada en lo que le resulte desfavorable).