Rechtsverordnung – translating into English

How should one translate the German term Rechtsverordnung, which is often abridged as Verordnung, especially in titles, into English?

In this blog, I have discussed it in the context of Geoffrey Perrin’s 1988 article in Lebende Sprachen, ‘Rechtsverordnung’ and the Terminology of Legal Translation, which Geoffrey has allowed me to post on this site as a PDF. In the right-hand column of this site you can find the link under ‘Articles’.

It’s a complex issue with a lot of disclaimers, but I will start off by saying what usage I prefer in British English, and put any other thoughts later.

The question arises in connection with the German Institutsvergütungsverordnung (long form: Verordnung über die aufsichtsrechtlichen Anforderungen an Vergütungssysteme von Instituten), which has been translated as Remuneration Ordinance for Institutions  and more recently as Remuneration Regulation for Institutions.

Here goes:

Gesetze und (Rechts)verordnungen refers to primary and subordinate legislation. Verordnungen in the plural is best translated by subordinate legislation or delegated legislation. The problem arises when you need a countable singular term, especially part of a title.

The superordinate singular term is statutory instrument. But in the actual titles of statutory instruments in the UK, the term is usually order or regulations (note the plural). Here is a list of UK statutory instruments.

This is why I write order in a title if it is my choice what to write.

A term very widely used, especially by Germans, is ordinance. Perrin discusses that for England and Wales – it is a very archaic-sounding and obscure category. And in the USA it is usually a city ordinance, a form of local legislation (British by(e)-law). I don’t like the word ordinance, but I have seen it used so often that I do understand what it is supposed to mean: a form of delegated legislation.

I don’t like regulation (singular) either. It makes me think of the EU Verordnung – Regulation – a form of primary EU legislation, rather than a form of German subordinate legislation. But as I say, if the translator cites the German title or in some way makes clear that something different from the EU term is meant, I can’t see any harm being done.

I just set this out to explain my thinking.

Disclaimer 1: It may be that regulation works best in US English and (statutory) order doesn’t work at all. Geoffrey Perrin touches on that in his sixth footnote.

2. As long as the original German title is mentioned together with the translator’s English version, there should be no confusion.

3. If a published version exists entitled either Regulation or Ordinance, it may be advisable to stick to that, especially if the end user of the translation is likely to consult it.

4. As Perrin writes in  his article, the expectations of the reader of a translation are important. Hence legal translators always have to consider: is the translation primarily for the UK, the USA, Europe, or all those together. Legal translation for me is rarely about translating between two legal systems – there are always more involved.

11 thoughts on “Rechtsverordnung – translating into English

  1. Thank you for that, Margaret!
    As Professor Witt, formerly of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law (Hamburg), said:
    “juristische Sprache ist (form)gebundene Sprache und Texte müssen in dem Kontext richtig verstanden werden, in welchem sie Rechtswirkung entfalten sollen.”
    It’s the jurisdiction in which the document is to apply that more often than not will determine the choice of terminology and whether to use a term of art having a specific meaning in a particular jurisdiction but not in the one that governs the document.

  2. Thanks for this post, a very interesting issue.

    A practical point: at least in my experience, numerous translation clients care more about what the legislation says than what it’s called. But one never knows if and when a name translated differently than the client is used to seeing that term in translation (for whatever reason) is going to provoke some kind of rebuke. The simplest way, I think, to handle this is to insist as a general policy that, absent an objective reason to omit the German name, that name must need be included in the English translation; this also has the potential to take the teeth out of any criticism the client may have. And while there are various ways to do it and while some are certainly better than others, all have at bottom the same intention. I am always glad to take what I can get.

    I should also say: I think your worry about multiple jurisdictions is spot on. With the term “Verordnung,” I think a simple and good translation is the European one: regulation. By and large, clients are familiar with it, it “sorta kinda” has a multi-jurisdictional (it certainly has a “sorta kinda” supra-jurisdictional) character, and it generally doesn’t cause misunderstanding, especially if the German name is provided alongside it.

  3. Yes, Peter, as you say, the word ‘regulation’ sens a nice message to many Europeans, but it sends a totally wrong message to English lawyers. That’s the problem.

    I am really waiting to see if any Americans confirm that ‘order’ (my favourite translation) is really totally unusable in the USA.

    • Well, I’m American (living in Germany). And I would not translate it as order. There are too many other connotations to think of, the most obvious, but certainly not the only, being a court order. My feeling, and my feelings are often misleading on matters of fact, tells me that an American might read “order” and think it originates from a court or some other government agency, not from lawmakers. But I really can’t say for sure. It’s an interesting question, though.

      I don’t know how English lawyers see the issue; I have no experience working with them. Most of the clients I work with are Germans and Americans who familiar at least with some aspects of German and European law.

      • Sorry, late reply – yes, now you say ‘American’, that explains it! I am inclined to ‘Regulations’ (which to me as an English-speaking lawyer means secondary legislation) rather than ‘Regulation’ (which implies primary EU legislation). But circumstances and clients and readers sometimes make a decision for me.

  4. Wearing my US stetson (given [to] me by my patent-attorney relative in New York) rather than my City of London bowler hat, I would postulate or posit in American English that, the other way round, Verordnung is a borderline-acceptable translation of e.g. Donald ‘s alias Drumpf’s albeit controversial Executive Orders = Durchführungsverordnung(en) https://www.dict.cc/?s=executive+order whilst per Dekret or Anordnung also come to mind.

    In the UK, the Queen can likewise make an Order-in-Council e.g. commuting a death sentence passed by a British Commonwealth State with a monarchy, whilst the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council used to deal with last-ditched capital punishment appeals from Commonwealth republics, notably from the Caribbean.

  5. Thank you, Margaret! This whole issue causes the occasional headache in the financial and other reporting texts that I translate. I agree with you about “ordinance”, which I find suboptimal (and I have talked to an English lawyer who agrees with this). As regards “order”, I agree with Peter: for me it does have a lot of other potential meanings, starting with a court order. Like you, I try to minimize any issues by always citing the German long (or semi-long) form. I also add the abbreviation and subsequently use that where possible. And since I am normally specifically translating for people from multiple jurisdictions I must say that “Regulation” does seem appropriate to me.

    One caveat about your point 3, though: Another practical complication is that different Verordnungen have been translated in different ways in the past. This can cause further confusion where there are several references to them in the same text, often in close proximity. Referring to one in one line as “Ordinance” and to the next as “Regulation” in the next feels pretty inelegant and also contradicts the idea of a homogeneous corporate language. Where I have the choice I therefore normally stick to “Regulation” throughout.

  6. Thanks, Deborah. As for point 3, it’s going to depend on what Verordnungen come up in a given text. I agree that one would not want to vary the term, because that would also suggest that there were different types of legislation involved. I suppose I would incline to ‘Regulations’ rather than ‘Regulation’, certainly if UK English was expected of me.
    The problem is really that as a UK-educated lawyer one has an immediate (wrong) feeling about the meaning of ‘Regulation’ in the singular, whereas one is really translating for a number of jurisdictions.
    I rarely use a (German) abbreviation in English, but that depends on how long-winded the alternative would be in that particular text. It may be more usual in financial than legal texts.

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