Institute of Global Law

The Institute of Global Law at University College (news page here) seems to be the second most useful British university website for German law (after the German Law Archive, partly run by the same people), I have had the impression. I was reminded when I was researching Basil Markesinis.

Since this weblog is about legal translation, I hope it doesn’t seem rude to comment on one of the translations on the site. Time doesn’t allow more. I do not intend to discuss bad translations and useless books here – it would be a waste of space. These translations are good and convey the original German. The Bundesverfassungsgericht ones are rather heavy going, but that seems to be the effect of the original judgments.

Just by way of example, I am looking at the translation of the Road Traffic Act, (Straßenverkehrsgesetz: the sections relating to damages), which I imagine is not one of the newest. It seems to be dated 1978, judging from the URL. Unfortunately the header does not give the date but merely ‘as amended’. The translator’s name is not given, so it can’t influence me.

This seems to be U.S. English, but written by a German: the use of § is no problem in the U.S., where it is also used for sections, except at the beginning of a sentence. The Germans call it a Paragraph, but English speakers call it a section symbol. In Britain it is more usual to translate German legislation as ‘Section 7 subsection 1’, or ‘Section 7 (1)’. I wouldn’t really mind the § symbol in British English, but it is said not to be recognized in general use. – Other evidence of U.S. origin: kilometers, para. (instead of subsection).

I think it’s also U.S. lawyers’ usage to write ‘analogous’ or ‘by way of analogy’ where the British would write ‘mutatis mutandis’ (§ 13 (2)). I quite like ‘analogous’, would prefer ‘by analogy’ to ‘by way of analogy’ (‘By way of analogy, let me tell you a story…’) and am less happy with ‘accordingly’ (§ 7 (3), sentence no longer in the current StVG, and elsewhere (§ 18 (2): ‘findet entsprechende Anwendung’). I think ‘accordingly’ is translatorese but am willing to accept correction.

Then again, ‘contributory negligence’ sounds more British, since I think in the U.S.A. it has retained its common-law all-or-nothing meaning, and perhaps ‘comparative negligence’ would be used here.

It would seem more natural in English to use ‘shall’ rather than the present tense (e.g. § 7 (1) ‘is obliged to compensate’).

I wonder what the original of § 7 (2) was – was it ‘höhere Gewalt’? I only have the 1999 amendment of the Act here. It has a very long paragraph which is not quite the definition of force majeure.

§7 (3) The owner / keeper remains liable if the use of the motor vehicle was ‘facilitated’ by his negligence – should be ‘made possible’, not ‘made easier’.

In § 9, I would prefer the negligence of one person to be treated as ‘equal to’ the negligence of the other, rather than ‘equivalent’, which I find unclear at a first reading.

I think this is enough to give a general idea to anyone reading this of the nature of legal translation. It is rare to translate a complete statute, and that should really be left to teams with time and financial support for thorough research, but bits of statutes often need translating.

At all events, this is a clearly written translation with the appropriate level of language – not too formal and not too informal, with largely appropriate terminology.
One final point: I noticed the use of the word ‘laches’ in the title of §15. That really seems unnecessary. Since laches is a term in equity, I would be disinclined to use it in translation at all, and even if its meaning were wider, it is so unfamiliar to the person on the Clapham omnibus (quote from a card at the Hyatt Regency: ‘Have a great day – Your bellperson’) that I would ban it as too far from plain English. (I discovered in Jersey City that Americans pronounce it ‘latches’, whereas the British pronunciation is ‘layches’ – Garner confirms in A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, ISBN 0 19 507769 5) – the amazon.com link allows you to see some pages (‘Look inside’).

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