Nugatory / Richtersprache

A translator was wondering recently how to translate the word nugatory into German. A judge had used it, saying that it didn’t really matter whether a decision was made on appeal or not, since there would be no money to be got – the decision would be nugatory.

It’s typical of judges in English and in German to use this kind of word. I wonder if it’s used at all outside legal language. I decided to search at Bailii – the new judgments rather than the old ones. Some examples:

THE USE OF THE COMPLAINTS PROCEDURE UNDER ARTICLE 90 OF THE STAFF REGULATIONS IS NUGATORY WHERE A DECISION IS MADE BY A BODY SUCH AS A SELECTION BOARD FOR A COMPETITION , WHICH ADJUDICATES IN COMPLETE INDEPENDENCE AND WHOSE DECISIONS CANNOT BE AMENDED BY THE APPOINTING AUTHORITY . (ECJ 1981)

The second main ground for the application is that if matters are allowed to proceed next week then the appeal will be rendered nugatory. (Court of Appeal, 1996)

In such situations as Vafi, where a change in circumstance would render the substantive hearing nugatory, requiring the matter to go to substantive hearing before having the proceedings struck out would result in the parties incurring unnecessary additional costs. (Irish Law Reform Commission, 2003)

In our view, the Sheriff misdirected himself by not expressly taking all these matters into account when exercising his judgment as to whether or not the mere appearance of “bias” on his part was sufficient to render the first four days of the proof entirely nugatory and to necessitate a fresh start. (Court of Session, Scotland, 1998)

Here it seems quite often to relate to appeals. I also find legal dictionaries defining it as meaning ‘being without operative legal effect (held that such an interpretation would render the statute nugatory)’ (Merriam Webster). Things are often rendered nugatory. (‘He misdirected himself’ is another nice legal expression).

Muret-Sanders says ‘besonders juristisch: unwirksam, nichtig’. This won’t work for the appeal, though. I once found unbeachtlich being used in this way, but that won’t always work either.

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