Two translations of the Swiss Civil Code

I’m just going through old books and find a translation of the Law of Persons, Article 1-89bis of the Swiss Civil Code, by the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce, by a team of seven translators, copyright 2006, which I bought for much bucks in the days before the Swiss government had an English version online (PDF).

Here’s the beginning without much comment, out of interest:

Original

  Art. 1 A. Anwendung des Rechts

A. Anwendung des Rechts

1 Das Gesetz findet auf alle Rechtsfragen Anwendung, für die es nach Wortlaut oder Auslegung eine Bestimmung enthält.

2 Kann dem Gesetz keine Vorschrift entnommen werden, so soll das Gericht1nach Gewohnheitsrecht und, wo auch ein solches fehlt, nach der Regel entscheiden, die es als Gesetzgeber aufstellen würde.

3 Es folgt dabei bewährter Lehre und Überlieferung.


1 Ausdruck gemäss Ziff. I 1 des BG vom 26. Juni 1998, in Kraft seit 1. Jan. 2000 (AS 19991118; BBl 1996 I 1). Diese Änd. ist im ganzen Erlass berücksichtigt.

Art. 2 B. Inhalt der Rechtsverhältnisse / I. Handeln nach Treu und Glauben

B. Inhalt der Rechtsverhältnisse

I. Handeln nach Treu und Glauben

1 Jedermann hat in der Ausübung seiner Rechte und in der Erfüllung seiner Pflichten nach Treu und Glauben zu handeln.

2 Der offenbare Missbrauch eines Rechtes findet keinen Rechtsschutz.

Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce version

Art. 1

Application of the law

The law shall apply to all legal questions that are covered, according to wording or interpretation, by one of the provisions thereof.

In the absence of a provision of law, the judge shall decide according to customary law and, in the absence of such customary law, according to the rule he would establish as a legislator.

In this regard, he shall follow established doctrine and tradition.

Art. 2

Content of legal relationships – Acting in good faith. Good faith

Each person shall be required to exercise his rights and fulfill his duties in good faith.

The manifest abuse of a right shall not be protected by law.

Online version at admin.ch

Art. 1

Application of the law

1 The law applies according to its wording or interpretation to all legal questions for which it contains a provision.

2 In the absence of a provision, the court shall decide in accordance with customary law and, in the absence of customary law, in accordance with the rule that it would make as legislator.

3 In doing so, the court shall follow established doctrine and case law.

Art. 2

Scope and limits of legal relationships – Acting in good faith

1 Every person must act in good faith in the exercise of his or her rights and in the performance of his or her obligations.

2 The manifest abuse of a right is not protected by law.

The comparison is quite interesting. Both versions are acceptable but one might translate differently in some places.

I prefer ‘in accordance with’ to ‘according to’ (which is a trivial matter), but why does the online version translate Überlieferung as ‘case law’? The court (rather than judge) as legislator – for Gesetzgeber I tend to write legislature.

I prefer ‘to perform his duties’ to ‘fulfil’ (‘fulfill’ is the US spelling) and ‘obligations’. ‘hat…nach Treu und Glauben zu handeln’ – one version has ‘must act’ and the other has ‘shall be required to…’.I would have thought ‘shall’ would be OK here – sometimes it is too strong for ‘hat…zu’.

 

English translations of German statutes

1. Many German statutes have been translated into English and are even available online. In fact I scarcely ever look at my collection of published translations now. Some online translations are ‘official’ and listed by juris for the German Federal Ministry of Justice. They are listed by their German abbreviations and details of the translators are given.

Translations of these materials into languages other than German are intended solely as a convenience to the non-German-reading public. Any discrepancies or differences that may arise in translations of the official German versions of these materials are not binding and have no legal effect for compliance or enforcement purposes.

2. There are other translations at the German Law Archive. There are also other translations online. The Centre for German Legal Information is a good source – currently it seems to be offline again, perhaps because it is the summer holidays. It often makes sense to refer a client to these translations. One may not agree with every detail, and sometimes the translation is wrong. I always point this out and sometimes revise it. Some of those translations are good, some not so good. But unless I have to translate part of a statute in a translation, I don’t usually look at the whole statute carefully so as to be able to give a reliable critical opinion. (Incidentally, I have recently been working on a translation relating to the Arbeitszeitgesetz and have found a PDF translation on the site of a German law firm, Mayr, in Berlin. That was just unearthed in a web search. But it is not a very difficult statute.)

3. In an earlier entry, in 2010,  Translating statutes: Federal Data Protection Act/Bundesdatenschutzgesetz I did write about two translations. There were some good comments too. Apparently the juris site had nothing then, but it does have a later version translated now, and so what I wrote there is just history.

4. On Twitter today, Inge Noeninger pointed out that the online ‘official’ translation of the Wohnungseigentumsgesetz looks very good.

Act on the Ownership of Apartments and the Right of Permanent Residency (Wohnungseigentumsgesetz, WEG)

Übersetzung durch Iyamide Mahdi in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Sprachendienst des Bundesministeriums der Justiz und für Verbraucherschutz.

Translation provided by Iyamide Mahdi in cooperation with the Language Service of the Federal Ministry of Justice and for Consumer Protection.

Original:

(1) Nach Maßgabe dieses Gesetzes kann an Wohnungen das Wohnungseigentum, an nicht zu Wohnzwecken dienenden Räumen eines Gebäudes das Teileigentum begründet werden.

(2) Wohnungseigentum ist das Sondereigentum an einer Wohnung in Verbindung mit dem Miteigentumsanteil an dem gemeinschaftlichen Eigentum, zu dem es gehört.

Translation:

(1) Pursuant to the provisions of this Act, title to an apartment [Wohnungseigentum] may be created in respect of apartments, and title to units [Teileigentum] may be created in respect of non-residential areas of a building.

(2) Title to an apartment comprises the separate ownership [Sondereigentum (1)] of an apartment together with a co-ownership share [Miteigentumsanteil] of the jointly owned property [gemeinschaftliches Eigentum] of which it is an integral part.

I am not about to give a reasoned review of the whole translation. It’s always the same – we encounter a small part of the statute in one translation and then not again for a long time. So if I make a few remarks they are not based on a thorough study.

It is very interesting that the translation uses German terms in brackets. This is in the Definitions section. This is helpful to anyone with a knowledge of German law looking at the translation. I don’t think I’ve seen it in a statute before. Terminology in this area is indeed confusing. The Civil Code does not permit ownership of flats. There’s a similar problem in English law. If you own a building, you own the land under it (down to hell and up to heaven, with a few restrictions for mineral and overhead flight rights etc.). That is freehold, but terms like freehold and leasehold don’t work in German law. There used to be Stockwerkseigentum and there still is in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, where a person owns a whole floor. But nowadays flats are not usually a whole floor. The WEG dates from 1951.

The situation here is that a person may own a flat (an apartment – good term for international comprehension) and may share ownership of common areas such as the stairs. Eigentum translates as property or ownership. I would call Wohnungseigentum ownership of a flat. Wohnung can often be translated as home, but here it means a flat. I would not myself say title to an apartment, although there’s nothing wrong with it. The translation tends towards the more formal and legalistic (pursuant to, title). I would not use the US term condominium, partly because it is not understood in the UK and partly because it is sometimes used to refer to a flat and sometimes to the whole set-up.  Teileigentum is translated as title to units. It does mean ownership of a part, rather than part ownership. It might relate to an identifiable parking space, for example, as well as to the flat.

I note, pettily, that mutatis mutandis is used although UK statutes now write ‘with the necessary modifications’ (section 30).

I thought one of my books on German law in English might deal with the language problems here. A common source is the Wörterbuch Immobilienwirtschaft/Real Estate Dictionary by Schulte, Lee, Paul, but that is only a starting point. I find myself going back to my ancient 5th edition of Real Property in Germany by Volhard/Weber/Usinger, Fritz Knapp Verlag, 1998, There is in fact a 2009 edition by Usinger and Schneider, which I have so rarely needed that I never got it.

This book does not go into apartment ownership in detail, but on page 1 (quoted at length to show the use of different vocabulary):

Under the Condominium Act (WEG), separate absolute ownership of a self-contained unit in a building may be acquired. Thus, it is possible to enjoy condominium or flat ownership (Wohnungseigentum, § 1 WEG) where flats are concerned, or part-ownership (Teiliegentum, § 1 WEG) where the premises in question are not used for residential purposes. Condominium ownership has acquired considerable economic importance in recent decades, both for the owner-occupier (Eigennutzer), who has been able to acquire the ownership of real property conveniently in this way, and for the investor (Kapitalanleger), in particular in the context of tax-saving models. Such ownership consists of separate absolute ownership of a self-contained unit of a building, combined with proportional ownership in common of those parts and installations of the building which are not subject to individual ownership, such as the roof, external walls, staircase, etc. However, it is also possible to create larger units and even whole buildings in the legal form of part-ownership, for example in the case of awkward real property relations which make physical partition impractical.

Brexit-Übergangsgesetz – Transitional Brexit Act

The German Federal Foreign Ministry has prepared a ministry draft of a potential Transitional Brexit Acdt (Brexit-Übergangsgesetz) – the title alone presents a translation problem. There is an explanation on the website in both German and English.

This Referentenentwurf is something prepared by the relevant section of the ministry but not yet adopted by the German government as a bill. So something may happen after the summer holidays.

The part of interest to British citizens who want to take German citizenship suggests that within the transitional period In addition, there is to be a regulation in favour of British nationals who apply for German citizenship during the transition period.

Solange das Vereinigte Königreich noch EU-Mitglied ist oder im Übergangszeitraum wie ein solches behandelt wird, muss für die Einbürgerung die britische Staatsangehörigkeit nicht aufgeben werden. Dabei kommt es aber nicht auf den Tag der Antragstellung, sondern auf den Tag der Entscheidung über die Einbürgerung an. Längere Bearbeitungszeiten könnten also zu Lasten britischer Einbürgerungsbewerber gehen. Um dies zu vermeiden, bestimmt der Referentenentwurf, dass bei Antragstellung vor Ablauf des Übergangszeitraums die britische Staatsangehörigkeit beibehalten werden kann.

 

As long as the United Kingdom is still a member of the EU or is treated as such during the transition period, British nationals applying for German citizenship will not have to give up their British citizenship. However, the pertinent date will be not the date on which the application was submitted, but the date on which a decision on citizenship is taken. In other words, the lengthy period needed to process applications could be to the detriment of British applicants. To avoid this, the ministry draft states that if an application is submitted before the end of the transition period, British citizenship can be retained.

I find this a bit confusing. I don’t know how long it currently takes for a person to be granted German citizenship (and as long as the UK is still in the EU, therefore to have concurrent German and British citizenship), but it looks as if the date of application is to be conclusive. If the bill becomes law in its current form!

The draft itself reads

Zu § 3

Die Einbürgerung in den deutschen Staatsverband setzt grundsätzlich die Aufgabe oder den Verlust der bisherigen Staatsangehörigkeit voraus, es sei denn, der Einbürgerungs- bewerber besitzt die Staatsangehörigkeit eines Mitgliedstaates der Europäischen Union oder der Schweiz (§ 12 Absatz 2 StAG). Solange das Vereinigte Königreich Mitglied der Europäischen Union ist oder in dem Übergangszeitraum als Mitgliedstaat der Europäi- schen Union gilt, werden britische Einbürgerungsbewerber daher mit fortbestehender britischer Staatsagehörigkeit eingebürgert. Dabei kommt es nach allgemeinen verfahrens- rechtlichen Grundsätzen auf den Tag der Einbürgerung an, nicht auf den Tag der Antragstellung. Um zu vermeiden, dass längere Bearbeitungszeiten zu Lasten der britischen Einbürgerungsbewerber gehen, wird in dieser ergänzenden Übergangsregelung be- stimmt, dass bei Antragstellung vor Ablauf des Übergangszeitraums die Beibehaltung der britischen Staatsangehörigkeit hingenommen wird, wenn zu diesem Zeitpunkt die weiteren Einbürgerungsvoraussetzungen bereits erfüllt waren.

In other news, there was a lot of excitement in the press last week when the UK government, on July 12, published a Brexit white paper translated poorly into various languages.

Brexit: British government’s botched German translation of Chequers white paper met with ridicule

That’s all well and good, and certainly the UK does not do much for foreign languages nowadays, but it isn’t the first time such documents have been translated poorly, in whatever country they originated. Apparently the ITI wrote a letter to Dominic Raab but the CIoL didn’t.

I even found a Wiki site Find translation errors in the UK government’s Brexit white paper.

That really says something about how social media are encouraging us to waste our time. What about the content of the white paper, people?

‘Data is’ or ‘data are’

The topic of whether data and media have become singular mass nouns is one of the topics people get very angry about in these discussions.

I would like to say that I can see the sense of data being/becoming a singular noun in general usage. After all, we don’t usually use the singular datum in general English.

Nevertheless, it is still the case that legal texts prefer the plural.

Translators unfortunately have to think about these things.

It has come to my knowledge that while the GDPR uses the plural, the English Data Protection Act 2018 uses the singular.

The ICO seems to use the singular too.

Pam Peters (Cambridge Guide to English Usage) says it can currently be either singular or plural, that in about 80% of cases it is indeterminate (e.g. ‘data collection’ – no verb indicating number), and that many writers try to preserve the plural by claiming that the singular is ‘only spoken usage’, ‘only American’ (!), ‘only technical texts’ and all sorts of things.

hilfs-hilfsweise

A note on a translation problem: a colleague had a sentence with hilfsweise and later hilfs-hilfsweise. I have met ‘in the alternative…in the further alternative’.

Also encountered: ‘in the first alternative…in the second alternative’. I think this puts the two on the same level, whereas ‘in the further alternative’ makes it subordinate – first try one, then if that doesn’t work, fall back on two.

Also encountered in German texts: eventualiter and subeventualiter.

I have not given a context. It is sometimes used in applications to court, requesting one alternative, but if that fails, a second.

A Linguee search for ‘in the further alternative’ reveals also ‘äußerst hilfsweise’ and ‘weiter hilfsweise’. A web search reveals more. A ProZ entry suggests that the German should be hilfsweise and höchst fürsorglich.

But I don’t need to go into enormous detail, although the commenter xxxKrstyMacC may wish to.

 

unverzüglich/without undue delay

I normally translate unverzüglich as without undue delay. This is always in contracts governed by German law where the German-language version takes precedence.

The background is in section 121 of the German Civil Code, which contains a statutory definition (Legaldefinition):

§ 121 Anfechtungsfrist

(1) Die Anfechtung muss in den Fällen der §§ 119, 120 ohne schuldhaftes Zögern (unverzüglich) erfolgen, nachdem der Anfechtungsberechtigte von dem Anfechtungsgrund Kenntnis erlangt hat. Die einem Abwesenden gegenüber erfolgte Anfechtung gilt als rechtzeitig erfolgt, wenn die Anfechtungserklärung unverzüglich abgesendet worden ist.
Here’s the ‘official’ English translation:

Section 121 Period for avoidance

(1) Avoidance must be effected, in the cases set out in sections 119 and 120,without culpable delay (without undue delay) after the person entitled to avoid obtains knowledge of the ground for avoidance. Avoidance made to an absent person is regarded as effected in good time if the declaration of avoidance is forwarded without undue delay.

The translation is a bit odd, but there is no good solution. The German gives the definition first (without culpable delay) and the term defined  (unverzüglich) in brackets. The English seems to say that whenever in the text of the Civil Code we encounter without undue delay we should read it to mean without culpable delay. That is the way brackets are used in many statutory definitions in German.

I certainly don’t think that an English-speaking reader would understand ‘without undue delay’ to mean ‘without culpable delay’. But it does indicate that not every delay will be a problem.

Triebel/Vogenauer write that a lot of terms that are precise in German law, and even have a statutory definition as in this case, have English semi-equivalents that are rather vague.

The contracts I translate have usually been governed by German law and with the German version taking priority, my translation just for convenience, and they have usually been for individuals in big companies to understand, but if they have a legal problem, they will consult a German colleague or lawyer because the German version prevails. However, there are many contracts written in English but governed by German law. I would not translate one of those because I’m not a practising and insured lawyer. Triebel/Vogenauer is written with those lawyers in mind. Their knowledge of law may be better than their knowledge of the English they draft it in.

There are two ways of handling this in such a contract: 1) write ‘without undue delay (unverzüglich, §121 BGB)’ or something along those lines 2) attach a glossary to the contract including all the terms with a specific meaning in German that would need explanation in English.

Triebel/Vogenauer (305 ff.) discuss the problem of translating vague English terms in German and using the German term with a statutory definition, for example translating ‘without (undue) delay’ as ‘unverzüglich’ in the sense of section 121 of the Civil Code. They give a table of such terms with both a definition of the English meaning and a partial approximation in German law.

Ken Adams encountered this problem in 2015 – see the post “Shall Without Undue Delay” (Including a German Angle). I was alerted to this article in Twitter only this week.

He thought ‘promptly’ was more elegant than ‘without undue delay’. He received an email from an attorney in Düsseldorf who cautioned against this is the contract was governed by German law. He explained the problem and added ‘So I tend to use “without undue delay”, often followed by “unverzüglich” in brackets’. There are some useful comments thee, including two from Stuart Bugg, who does translate such contracts. (His book, Contracts in English, is ot based on the law of any particular jurisdiction, and it contains an apendix with German translations of legal terms).

On Juraforum there is a list of terms given a Legaldefinition (statutory definition) in German law.

Legaldefinition meint eine im Gesetz enthaltene Definition eines unbestimmten Rechtsbegriffes. Sie sind oftmals daran zu erkennen, dass das definierte Wort nach der Definition in Klammern steht.

 

Zum Beispiel:   Anspruch, § 194 Absatz 1 BGB

„Das Recht, von einem anderen ein Tun oder Unterlassen zu verlangen (Anspruch), unterliegt der Verjährung.“

Ein Anspruch ist gem. der Legaldefinition in § 194 Absatz 1 BGB ein Recht, von einem anderen ein Tun oder Unterlassen zu verlangen.

 

Persönlich bekannt

I have always found it confusing that persons appearing (die Erschienenen) before a notary may be described as ausgewiesen durch Personalausweis or persönlich bekannt.  It makes it look as if there is a big difference between the two, but I don’t think there is. It isn’t a case of a) I saw the person’s passport and here is the number and b) an old acquaintance.

I dread to think how I used to translate this years ago, when I encountered it more often.

In fact there’s a good explanation on LEO, (by wienergriessler), as sometimes happens:

Jein: “dem Notar von Person bekannt” kann heißen, dass die Person sich bei einer früheren Beurkundung schon mit Ausweis/Pass “ausgewiesen” hat; der Notar darf aber m.W. auch dann “von Person bekannt” schreiben,wenn er die Person aus seinem persönlichen Kontakt kennt,ohne den Ausweis gesehen zu haben
(Beispiel: Ein Richter, den der Notar aus dem Gericht kennt, will etwas beurkunden lassen. Dann darf der Notar auch schreiben: von Person bekannt)

So it seems that in case b) the notary has copied out the ID/passport number before, in most cases.

I was reminded of this some time ago when I looked at Diatopische Variation in der deutschen Rechtssprache, by Brammbilla/Gerdes/Messina. I turned to pp. 314 ff., Recht in Bayern:

Wie die Untersuchung des Korpus ergibt, verwenden die bayerischen Notare nach 1899 die vorher in Bayern übliche Formulierung mir nach Namen, Stand und Wohnort bekannt nicht mehr, sondern nur noch die bayernunspezifische Formulierung mir persönlich bekannt.

I like the word bayernunspezifisch. But the earlier formulation made it clear to me what the wording means.

The book immediately gets very exciting on the subjects of Bavarian weights and measures (‘Das Dezimal betrug in Bayern ein hundertstel Tagwerk und das wiederum 34,07 Quadratmeter’), occupations and subject of contract (variant terms for potatoes and sausages).

 

Im Krug zum grünen Kranze

This ‘folksong’ went through my mind after I saw a wreath on a house. Text from Projekt Gutenberg. 

Brüderschaft

Im Krug zum grünen Kranze
Da kehrt ich durstig ein:
Da saß ein Wandrer drinnen
Am Tisch bei kühlem Wein.Ein Glas war eingegossen,
Das wurde nimmer leer;
Sein Haupt ruht’ auf dem Bündel,
Als wär’s ihm viel zu schwer.Ich tät mich zu ihm setzen,
Ich sah ihm ins Gesicht,
Das schien mir gar befreundet,
Und dennoch kannt ich’s nicht.Da sah auch mir ins Auge
Der fremde Wandersmann,
Und füllte meinen Becher,
Und sah mich wieder an.Hei, was die Becher klangen,
Wie brannte Hand in Hand:
»Es lebe die Liebste deine,
Herzbruder, im Vaterland!«

Written, like so much else, by Wilhelm Müller (who died of a heart attack at the age of 32).

On YouTube.

The man sleeping in an alcoholic stupor in the in Krug zum grünen Kranze in Halle was Carl von Basedow, Müller’s future brother-in-law and the later discoverer of Morbus Basedow.

Morbus Basedow was discovered independently and 5 years earlier in England by Robert James Graves. We call it Graves’ disease (with or without the apostrophe).

Marty Feldman had Graves disease, as could be seen. So did Heino (hence the dark glasses) and many others. You can even her Heino singing it – did he know about the connection?

I won’t go into the history of Burschenschaft and Studentenverbindung. Wikipedia English and German.

Book recommendation: Triebel/Vogenauer, Englisch als Vertragssprache

Here is a strong recommendation for a book I have not yet read, only skimmed, myself. Unfortunately I have too many books on the go (rereading Die Emigranten and the Patrick Melrose novels, reading the Secret Barrister, Cotton on Photography as Contemporary Art and two books on literary theory, which we were only just dipping our toes into in the 60s and 70s, to say nothing of a translation of Willehalm and The Romance of the Three Kingdoms  – I can’t remember ever wanting to read so much and having so little time to do it).

Volker Triebel, Stefan Vogenaur, Englisch als Vertragssprache, Beck Verlag 2108

Thanks to Inge Noeninger for pointing it out on Twitter (note the bust of Goethe on her bookshelves – I only have Marx). I had waiting ages, from 1995 to 2012, for the new edition of Englisches Handels- und Wirtschaftsrecht, which was not quite appropriate to my direction of translation, and missed this one.

Please read the table of contents (PDF) via Beck Verlag. Scroll down to see it. The foreword is there too.

The book is intended for lawyers, not legal translators (whereas most of the more pedestrian Legal English books are always advertised to be suitable for translators, interpreters, lawyers and anyone else with a few euros to spare).

The first swection deals among other things with how lawyers actually learn English and how much they do both on LL.M. courses and in big international law firms. This is something I can’t remember reading anywhere else. There is also a bit on the niche role of German as a legal language. There is then a section on what can go wrong, both linguistically and semantically, and a section on problems of general English, followed by one on the special problems of the English language in contracts. Section 5 deals with problems in translating English contract terms into German, Section 6 with problems where the language and the legal system diverge, and section 7 advice on safer drafting. At the end is a bibliography in eight sections. There are indexes in both German and English.

Looking at the bibliographies, I have noted Christopher Hutton, Word Meaning and Legal Interpretation: An Introductory Guide, 2014, but perhaps I should not buy it until I have read this one, which warrants close examination and a large part of which is of direct interest to me. I know most of the books on legal English for non-English-speaking lawyers. I am quite ignorant of how much has been published on Auseinanderfallen von Vertragssprache und anwendbarem Recht – whenever I translate a contract into English, it is governed by German law, so my translation is just for information, and if anyone asked me to help draft a contract in English I would refuse as I’m not a practising lawyer – still, it is interesting, and I recognize some names, not just Triebel himself (several articles) but Suzanne Ballansat-Aebi, who has written well about legal translation, and Gerhard Dannemann.

I’m not sure I’m brainy enough to read Heikki Mattila on Comparative Legal Linguistics, translated from the Finnish, though the history of legal abbreviations is a big temptation, and another element of great interest to me is legal Latin, which varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction so is part of what needs translating too. It’s a bit expensive even in Kindle, so I may be safe for the time being.