Mistranslations(?): autotutela administrativa

The meaning of autotutela administrativa has sometimes been misunderstood, and the term has been translated variously as “self-control,” “self-regulation, “self-protection,” “self-authorization,” “self-government” and “self-help.” The expression actually denotes the public administration’s powers to compel compliance and to enforce its own decisions without the intervention of the courts. In that regard, autotutela administrativa is defined as el privilegio de las Administraciones públicas según el cual sus actos se presumen válidos y pueden ser impuestos a los ciudadanos, incluso coactivamente, sin necesidad del concurso de los tribunales, y al margen del consentimiento de aquellos.* Thus, in this context autotutela denotes the “self-executing decision-making powers” of governmental agencies and may perhaps be rendered as the public administration’s (or) the government’s “compliance and enforcement powers,” an expression often used to describe the powers exercised by governmental agencies in the UK, Canada and Australia.

*EJ Enciclopedia Jurídica. http://www.enciclopedia-juridica.biz14.com

Mistranslations? cuantía del litigio

Cuantía del litigio and similar expressions such as cuantía de la demanda denoting the valor del objeto del proceso have sometimes been translated literally as “amount of the claim,” “amount claimed in the complaint,” or “amount of the litigation.” But in US civil procedure there are specific terms that express this concept including “amount in controversy” and “jurisdictional amount,” both of which denote the monetary amount claimed in a lawsuit that often determines which court will have jurisdiction to hear a given case. In this context an expression such as competencia por razón de la cuantía refers to “jurisdiction based on the amount in controversy.” Cuantía was likewise used in this context in the former Spanish Civil Procedure Act (Ley de Enjuiciamiento Civil de 1881) in expressions such as juicio de menor cuantía (“small claims action/proceeding”) and juicio de mayor cuantía (“large claims action/proceeding”). In British English the amount in controversy is also often referred to as the “quantum” or “amount in dispute.”

When the Decano not a “Dean”

“Mistranslations?” includes examples of what I believe may be considered mistranslations that I have encountered over a twenty-five year period while working as a legal translator and teacher of legal English in Spain. Some may be actual mistranslations, while others are perhaps all-too-literal renderings of expressions that may have sufficiently close counterparts (“functional equivalents”) in the other language. Still others are translations that may simply not be accurate in the context in which they originally appeared.

decano ; juez decano; decanato ; juzgado decano

In academic contexts, decano can certainly be rendered as “dean,” as in the expression Decano de la Facultad de Derecho (“Dean of the Law School/Faculty of Law”). But decano has often been translated as “dean” in contexts in which this rendering is inappropriate. When referring to the head of a professional association in expressions such as Decano del Ilustre Colegio Notarial de Valencia and Decano del Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Madrid, “decano” refers to the “president” of those entities. In this context colegio denotes a “professional association,” rather than a “college,” and in English the head of a professional association is most often its “president,” rather than a “dean.” Thus the decanos mentioned above are respectively the “President of the Valencia Notaries Association” and the “President of the Madrid Bar Association.” Some of the prominent international notaries associations that have presidents as their head officer include the International Union of Latin Notaries, National Notary Association of America, the Notaries Society of England and Wales and the Council of the Notariats of the European Union. Likewise, the head of the major US bar associations such as the American Bar Association or the National Bar Association, as well as the heads of the state bar associations are all called “presidents,” rather than “deans.” In this context vice decano refers to a “vice president,” while decano accidental is “acting (or) interim president.”

Similarly, in the context of the organization of the Spanish judiciary, decanato does not refer to a “dean’s office,” “deanery,” or even a “senior court” or “court clerk’s office,” as the term has sometimes been mistranslated, but rather to a juzgado decano, the court that oversees administrative matters for all of the courts within a given judicial district. In that regard, although often translated as “senior judge,” the juez decano (or simply decano) who presides a decanato is not necessarily the “senior judge” in the district, i.e., the judge with the most seniority (antigüedad), which is more appropriately expressed in Spanish as el juez más antiguo. In large judicial districts where there are a number of courts, the juez decano is elected by his fellow judges on the “Judges Board (or) Committee” (Junta de Jueces) to oversee court operations and to provide centralized judicial services, (although, in effect, in smaller districts this job may automatically fall to the senior judge). In view of his duties, a juez decano may perhaps be considered the Spanish counterpart of the “Chief Judge” of US Federal District Courts (not to be confused with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), who likewise oversees court administration. Thus for US audiences decano or juez decano and decanato or juzgado decano might be translated respectively as “Chief Judge” and “office of the Chief Judge.” For other audiences, or if there is a risk of confusion with the Chief Justice, perhaps “judge/office in charge of court administration” would be an appropriate descriptive translation for the two concepts.

Mistranslations(?): Why Derecho mercantil is “Business Law”

“Mistranslations?” includes examples of what I believe may be considered mistranslations that I have encountered over a twenty-five year period while working as a legal translator and teacher of legal English in Spain. Some may be actual mistranslations, while others are perhaps all-too-literal renderings of expressions that may have sufficiently close counterparts (“functional equivalents”) in the other language. Still others are translations that may simply not be accurate in the context in which they originally appeared.

One of my students recently asked me why I translate Derecho mercantil as “Business Law,” and why can’t the term be rendered literally as “Mercantile Law” or as “Commercial Law.” There is certainly no official translation for Derecho mercantil, and translations between different legal systems are never 100% equivalents, but in this case I believe “Business Law” is simply closer to the meaning of Derecho mercantil than the other two options.

In its strictest sense, “Mercantile Law” is often understood to refer to the “law merchant” or lex mercatoria, the system of customary law widely adopted in Europe during the Middle Ages.

“Commercial Law” is a narrower concept than Derecho mercantil. In England and Wales a course on commercial law may sometimes be limited to the study of the sale of goods (compraventa de mercancías), international sales (compraventa internacional), the law of agency (Derecho de agencia) and consumer credit (crédito al consumo). Likewise, in the US “commercial law” is often understood as being limited to those areas of law governed by the Uniform Commercial Code, including the sale of goods (compraventa de mercancías), negotiable instruments (títulos valores), bank deposits (depósitos bancarios) and secured transactions (operaciones garantizadas), among others.

And, finally, a quick look at the table of contents of any standard Spanish law school textbook on Derecho mercantil makes it clear that it is much broader than “commercial law,” and shares many of the disciplines studied in the US in business law courses. These include:

  • Derecho societario (corporate law or, in its broader meaning, law of business entities)
  • Contabilidad mercantil (business accounting)
  • Propiedad intelectual e industrial (intellectual property)
  • Derecho de la competencia (competition/anti-trust law)
  • Derecho de la competencia desleal (unfair competition law)
  • Derecho de la publicidad (advertising law)
  • Contratos mercantiles (commercial contracts)
  • Títulos valores (negotiable instruments)
  • Derecho del mercado de valores (securities markets law)
  • Derecho bancario (banking law)
  • Derecho de los seguros privados (insurance law)
  • Derecho concursal (insolvency law)

Mistranslations(?): prevaricación

“Mistranslations?” includes examples of what I believe may be considered mistranslations that I have encountered over a twenty-five year period while working as a legal translator and teacher of legal English in Spain. Some may be actual mistranslations, while others are perhaps all-too-literal renderings of expressions that may have sufficiently close counterparts (“functional equivalents”) in the other language. Still others are translations that may simply not be accurate in the context in which they originally appeared.

Just what is prevaricación?

News from the Spanish press: El juez cita al secretario de Estado para responder por cinco delitos, entre ellos prevaricación… and El partido interpuso ante el alto tribunal una querella por prevaricación contra el juez que envió a los dos artistas a prisión preventiva sin fianza. But just what is prevaricación and, more importantly, how can we translate it?

 Prevaricación is perhaps one of the most misunderstood (and mistranslated) terms of Spanish criminal law.* It is often translated literally as “prevarication,” a term defined in Black’s Law Dictionary (8th ed.) as “the act or an instance of lying or avoiding the truth.” Other renderings that I have seen include:

  • breach of public duties
  • deliberate neglect of duty
  • betrayal of trust
  • criminal breach of trust
  • abuse of authority; abuse of office; abuse of process
  • irregular dealings (and)
  • malfeasance

But these translations aren’t really accurate. Indeed, prevaricación has a very specific meaning in Spanish criminal law, ** referring to a judge or civil servant who issues an arbitrary decision with the knowledge that it is unfair. The Criminal Code distinguishes two types of prevaricación. Prevaricación committed by public officials or civil servants (autoridad o funcionario público), often called prevaricación administrativa, is defined as dictar resolución arbitraria en asunto administrativo a sabiendas de su injusticia (Art. 404). Prevaricación committed by judges (prevaricación judicial) is similarly defined as dictar a sabiendas resolución o sentencia injusta (Art. 446).

So as used in Spanish criminal law, there is unfortunately no short, snappy rendering for prevaricación that would fit nicely in a translation, and none of those listed above expresses the meaning of the term. Thus, in this case we are obliged to render prevaricación with a “definitional translation” such as “knowingly issuing an unfair decision” or devise a similar expression that reflects its true meaning.

Read more here: http://guiasjuridicas.wolterskluwer.es/home/EX0000013706/20080708/Prevaricacion

*For possible English translations of other difficult criminal law terms see previous posts on:

**The meaning of prevaricación may, of course, be different in other Spanish-speaking jurisdictions.

 

Mistranslations(?) of socio

“Mistranslations?” includes examples of what I believe may be considered mistranslations that I have encountered over a twenty-five year period while working as a legal translator and teacher of legal English in Spain. Some may be actual mistranslations, while others are perhaps all-too-literal renderings of expressions that may have sufficiently close counterparts (“functional equivalents”) in the other language. Still others are translations that may simply not be accurate in the context in which they originally appeared.

socio

The noun socio has several different meanings in business law contexts and is therefore sometimes a source of translation mistakes. Informally, socio is often used loosely to refer to one’s “colleague” or “business partner,” without implying that the persons in question are actually members of a partnership or other business organization.

Obviously socio may likewise be translated as “partner” when the reference is to a member of an actual partnership. In Spain there are three types of partnership: sociedad (regular) colectiva, often called a sociedad colectiva simple, abbreviated S.R.C. or S.C. (“general partnership”); sociedad comanditaria or sociedad en comandita, abbreviated S. Com. or S. en Com. (“limited partnership”) and sociedad en comandita por acciones, abbreviated S. Com. en A. (“partnership limited by shares”). Examples of expressions in this context in which socio may be accurately rendered as “partner” include socio colectivo (“general partner”); socio comanditario (“limited partner”) and socio gerente (“managing partner”).

Members of a Spanish corporation (sociedad anónima, abbreviated S.A.) are also often referred to as socios. But since S.A.s are not partnerships, socio cannot be translated here as “partner,” but rather would be more accurately rendered as “shareholder,” given that member interests in S.A.s are divided into shares (acciones). For example, socio único denotes the “sole shareholder” of a sociedad anónima unipersonal or S.A.U. (a “single-shareholder corporation”). Thus socios in a sociedad anónima are “shareholders” or “members,” but never “partners.”

Members of a Spanish limited liability company (sociedad de responsabilidad limitada or sociedad limitada, abbreviated S.R.L. or S.L.) are likewise referred to as socios. But once again, since S.L.s are not partnerships, socio cannot be translated here as “partner.” In addition, to distinguish limited liability companies from corporations, by law member interests in S.L.s cannot be called shares (acciones), but rather are known as participaciones. Thus members in a sociedad limitada are never referred to as “shareholders” (accionistas), so perhaps the most appropriate translation for socios of an S.L. is simply “members.” And in this context the expression socio único denotes the “sole member” of a sociedad limitada unipersonal or S.L.U. (a “single-member limited liability company”).

It is unfortunate that socio has been erroneously rendered as “partner” in a much-quoted translation of the 2010 Spanish Corporate Enterprises Act (Ley de Sociedades de Capital) available on the Ministerio de Justicia’s website.* This law governs three of the business entities mentioned above: corporations (sociedades anónimas), limited liability companies (sociedades limitadas) and partnerships limited by shares (sociedades comanditarias por acciones). Only the latter is actually a partnership and, thus, in this context socios may only be correctly translated as “partners” when referring to socios in sociedades comanditarias por acciones. As underscored above, the socios of Spanish corporations are more appropriately “shareholders,” while socios of Spanish limited liability companies may be termed “members.” Unfortunately, in the translation of this law all references to the socios of sociedades limitadas have been rendered as “partners” (See, for example, the reference in Article 331 to “limited liability company partners.”) As indicated above, in this context “members” would be the appropriate term. And “members” would likewise be an appropriate generic rendering when referring collectively to socios in all three of the business entities governed under the Corporate Enterprises Act.

In summary, in addition to often referring informally to a “business colleague (or) partner,” socio may denote a “partner” in any of the three types of Spanish partnership, a “shareholder” in a corporation or a “member” of a limited liability company. Thus the correct translation of the term will depend on the type of business entity to which the socio belongs.

* http://www.mjusticia.gob.es/cs/Satellite/Portal/es/servicios-ciudadano/documentacion-publicaciones/publicaciones/traducciones-derecho-espanol

 

Mistranslations (?) of aforado and aforamiento

“Mistranslations?” includes examples of what I believe may be considered mistranslations that I have encountered over a twenty-five year period while working as a legal translator and teacher of legal English in Spain. Some may be actual mistranslations, while others are perhaps all-too-literal renderings of expressions that may have sufficiently close counterparts (“functional equivalents”) in the other language. Still others are translations that may simply not be accurate in the context in which they originally appeared.

aforado; aforamiento

Aforado has often been translated simply as “privileged” or “person entitled to privileges,” while aforamiento has sometimes been inappropriately rendered as “grant of parliamentary immunity.” Neither are really accurate translations, since in Spanish law aforamiento specifically refers to one’s being subject to a given “forum” or “venue” (fuero), and the fact that aforados have the privilege of being tried in a specific court. As an example, senadores, diputados and ministros are aforados in the sense that if prosecuted for a criminal offense, their court of original jurisdiction (tribunal competente en primera instancia) is the Criminal Division of the Supreme Court (Sala Segunda del Tribunal Supremo), rather than a first instance criminal court that would try an ordinary citizen accused of criminal wrongdoing.

For more on aforamiento and how “parliamentary immunity” may be expressed in Spanish see tomorrow’s post on inviolabilidad; inmunidad; aforamiento.