In a recent comment, the term Rechtsverordnung was mentioned, and it reminded me of an article by Geoffrey Perrin, then of the Sprachendienst, Bundesministerium der Justiz, in an issue of Lebende Sprachen so long ago that the cover was still blue (LS No. 1/1988, pp. 17-18). It is one of the best things I have ever read on German-English legal translation. There was a later article on the vocabulary of juvenile crime and prosecution that was good too. I found Perrin translated the Nationality Act (Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz) for Inter Nationes, who have published English versions of numerous statutes both on paper (I ordered some free of charge by post once) and online. This translation is also available at the German Law Archive.
The article takes the problems of translating the term Rechtsverordnung into English as examples of the problems of translating legal terminology in general. For a summary, see the continuation.Perrin first gives Creifelds’ definition of Rechtsverordnung.
The language professional coming new to the field of German-English legal translation quickly discovers that this concept is most frequently rendered in English translations enjoying some sort of official status by ‘ordinance”. Examples are legion …
This is precisely the situation legal translators often find themselves in: has an English term become so widely accepted that it is better to use it even if it may not be ideal? (I was recently asked to translation ‘Beklagter zu 2)’ as ‘Defendant ad 2)’ (example slightly altered by me) instead of the standard ‘Second defendant’ – later I was told by another translator that ‘ad 2)’ was once used by a translator, who I think was an English lawyer, and it has established a foothold in Frankfurt am Main, rather like the giant hogweed or the Himalayan balsam).
P first discusses the value of ordinance: fairly rare in the UK:
‘One of the forms taken by legislation under the royal prerogative, normally legislation relating to UK dependencies’. Has an archaic ring. In the USA, Farnsworth indicates ordinances are ‘usually only of local interest’. There are therefore strong reservations about using it to translate Rechtsverordnung, which stands between Verfassungsrecht and Gesetze, whereas ordinance, in the UK and USA, is a ‘lower-order entity’. However, it would work in Hong Kong. – The discussion of the word ordinance is long and thorough.
The best term seems to be delegated legislation (subordinate legislation). However, there are times when a singular is needed, a specific reference.
The most important form of delegated legislation in the UK is the statutory instrument, the latter being known up to 1948 as statutory rules and orders.
Statutory order is a term that ‘forms a neat semantic fit’ with Rechtsverordnung and has a ‘semantic transparency’ that is not shared by the more modern term statutory instrument. Nor is the term obsolete in the UK, and Perrin found it used in an American translation of the Civil Code (Forrester et al.)
Perrin makes two final points: firstly,
The elaboration and consolidation of legal terminology for translation purposes demands much painstaking research and constant reference to original texts in both source and target language.
The choice of one term rather than another will in some instances be determined by reader-expectancy (some may prefer to call this ‘reader-experience’ or ‘reader-background’).
I must say that I tend to use statutory order, unless delegated legislation will work, and I have done ever since I read the article.