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 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.