German Courts of Law / Deutsche Gerichtsnamen auf Englisch

It’s common knowledge among legal translators that there is a set of English, French and Spanish terms recommended by the Auswärtiges Amt as ‘translations’ of German court names. The terms are listed here, for example. Attempted standardization of outgoing translations is always fun, especially as a job-creating activity. But last year someone thrust into my hand a big A3 piece of paper with a full diagram of the courts, actually one page in German and another in English. It shows all the chambers and paths of appeal and contains a lot more vocabulary. I wanted to copy it to take to New Jersey (ATA legal translation conference) next week – it looks good on A4 too – but I couldn’t find a clean copy. Now I have actually found it appeared on the website of the German Ministry of Justice in February.
They always sneak something interesting onto that website. I remember an English version of the Criminal Code appearing. Today I found not only the Insolvency Act (they call it Insolvency Statute) – the German Law Archive announced that some time ago – but also the Völkerstrafgesetzbuch (Code of Crimes against International Law), and the Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz (Act on the Organization of the Courts or Judicature Act – they call it the Judiciary Act). Here’s one link, but searching around the site may help.

Looking briefly at the courts diagram, I note they like to use different words for Senat, Kammer and Gericht, although in my view all are chambers (but then again, a Senat may be larger than the number who sit). They have Panel for Senat in the Federal Court of Justice, Division for Kammer (I have an article by a U.S. law professor arguing in favour of division, but I tend to use division for Abteilung, e.g. criminal division of the Amtsgericht), and Court for Gericht.
The tricky word Schöffengericht is translated as Full Bench! I suppose it isn’t a bad idea, but then you have Extended Bench for Erweitertes Schöffengericht, which makes me wonder if someone has to sit on the floor. What about Schwurgericht? They simply omit it. It is a form of Große Strafkammer (Grand Criminal Division). For Schöffe they have lay judge, which I agree with. There’s a Rechtspfleger in the civil division of the Amtsgericht and that used to be easy to translate into British English as registrar, because there was a kind of sub-judge at the English county court called registrar. But when they were renamed district judges, the term registrar seemed too obscure or ambiguous. This BMJ list (does anyone know where it comes from?) leaves Rechtspfleger in German. I didn’t think we were supposed to do that… For ehrenamtlicher Richter, for instance in the courts of labour law, I don’t really like ‘honorary judge’: this is more like ‘unpaid’. Still, the diagram’s language is largely comprehensible.

1 thought on “German Courts of Law / Deutsche Gerichtsnamen auf Englisch

  1. In English, one “lays down the law”.
    In German, one “sets down the law”.
    Hence, German Gesetz = law. :-)

    There is a parallel between Hebrew (schwa-less)
    het, Greek digamma, Germanic Wynn, and Latin X. Using X for het, Hebrew LooaX = tablet (of the
    law), Latin LeX, and English LaW are cognates.

    izzy_cohen@bmc.com

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