Although we know about the abstraction principle in German contract law, we don’t often have to translate it.
Here is Markesinis on the principle:
We now come to what is one of the most intriguing peculiarities of German contract law. Indeed, Zweigert and Kötz, in their treatise, An Introduction to Comparative Law, p. 71, regard it as so distinctive as to argue that it gives the German legal system its characteristic style. … Many common lawyers, and indeed French lawyers,might be tempted to describe it more than just ‘distinctive’. ‘Un-necessary’ and ‘excessively abstract’ are words that have often been used; and not with(out) some justification.
German law notionally distinguishes between the legal transaction that creates the relationship of obligation (Verpflichtungsgeschäft) from (sic) the legal transaction which transfers, alters, extinguishes, or encumbers rights (Verfügungsgeschäft = disposition contract). This distinction is accompanied by an important sub-rule: the validity of the second transaction is independent from (sic) the validity of the first.The first tenet is known as the ‘principle of separation’ (Trennungsprinzip), while the second is referred to as the’principle of abstraction’ (Abstraktionsprinzip).
Basil S. Markesinis, Hannes Unberath, Angus Johnston, The German Law of Contract. A Comparative Treatise, 2nd ed. 2006, p. 27
Even the act of buying a newspaper, in German law, consists of two stages: the intention and the reciprocal handing over of paper and money.
The closest idea in English law is found in conveyancing, where the parties exchange contracts to buy/sell and some weeks later the property and payment are exchanged.
In my translation, the situation was that the Kausalgeschäft (= Verpflichtungsgeschäft) underlying a gift of money in return for a promise not to seek further payment was invalid, and so the gift was invalid too.
One way to do this would be to add a translator’s note explaining this peculiarity of German law. I decided to translate Kausalgeschäft as ‘underlying obligation’ and ‘obligational agreement’, adding ‘(a peculiarity of German law)’.
ProZ is often helpful here. As long as you understand the German legal point, you can see which answers are helpful, just as when trying to find help in Dietl or Romain.
In recent months at least, it seems that machine translation, based on huge databases of sample translations (neural networks), has massively improved. DeepL is one example. Professional translators would avoid using this as their translations might be integrated into the system, which would be a breach of their client confidentiality. But I do suspect that any law firm processing a huge pile of exhibits in a foreign language and wondering which pages would be worth translating can have the whole lot rapidly machine-translated, then zoom in on the most relevant bits and have them machine-translated.
Peter Winslow, a legal translator with a penchant for Karl Kraus, has posted in a Beck Verlag forum three translations of a sentence, two of which are machine translators and the third by a human translator with to me dubious qualifications:
Nur eine der nachstehenden Übersetzungen ins Deutsche wurde von einem menschlichen Übersetzer angefertigt, die anderen zwei stammen von maschinellen Übersetzungssystemen (vor mindestens sechs Monaten). … Erkennen Sie, welche Übersetzung der menschliche Übersetzer angefertigt hat? Der Mensch ist Deutscher und deutscher Muttersprachler. Er ist Diplom-Übersetzer – sogar für die englische Sprache allgemein beeidigt und öffentlich bestellt – und gibt an, mehr als fünf Jahre Berufserfahrung als freiberuflicher Übersetzer zu haben.
Presumably most readers of this quiz will be German lawyers, and of course they will ask themselves how to know whether a translator can be relied on. It isn’t easy. Someone who has studied translation at a German university will probably have learnt little about legal translation, although you may need to show legal knowledge to be qualified to translate for the courts. It would be better to find a translator with specific legal experience or qualifications, and experience in doing legal translations. But I think one problem is that lawyers specialize, whereas legal translators tend to specialize only in law, not in a narrow area of law. They may have years of experience in a particular area of legal translation, or they may not. I hope most big law firms that do a lot of international work will have inhouse translation teams including trained translators, who will know how to evaluate any software systems used for translation. With smaller firms it is less likely.
The sentence taken as an example is “This policy defines the specific server roles required to implement the server program.” This sentence is hardly typical of legal translations.
(I am guessing, like Prof. Dr. Müller, that the second version is the native speaker of German – the answer has not yet been revealed).
One problem at the moment seems to be that agencies are using MT and the occasional sentence is quite wrong. They then require “proof-reading” from a freelance, but if only the final product is reviewed, in English for example, the error may not be evident, although the review will be cheaper than if it were compared with the original.
(With thanks to Igor Plotkin for posting this on a mailing list)
In a recent post Strafbefehle must be translated I linked to the CJEU case on the subject. At that time, only the Advocate General’s opinion was available in English, but now I’ve called up a bilingual version of the judgment.
I’m treating the German as the original version and only commenting on any elements which may be German rather than EU.
Thus the term Strafbefehl is now penalty order, not penal order
Unfallflucht: failure to stop at the scene of an accident
German law: two sections of the Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz are transllated. There is an ‘official’ translation online in Germany, by Kathleen Müller-Rostin, but this was not used.
§ 187 des Gerichtsverfassungsgesetzes (GVG) sieht in seinem Abs. 1 vor, dass für einen Beschuldigten, der der deutschen Sprache nicht mächtig ist, ein Dolmetscher oder Übersetzer heranzuziehen ist, soweit dies zur Ausübung seiner strafprozessualen Rechte erforderlich ist.
Official translation (Courts Constitution Act)
The court shall call in an interpreter or a translator for an accused or convicted person who does not have a command of the German language or is hearing impaired or speech impaired, insofar as this is necessary for the exercise of his rights under the law of criminal procedure. The court shall advise the accused in a language he understands that he may to this extent demand that an interpreter or a translator be called in for the entire criminal proceedings free of charge.
Paragraph 187(1) of the Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz (Law on the Judicial System, ‘the GVG’) provides that, for an accused who does not have a command of the German language, recourse must be had to an interpreter or translator in so far as that is necessary for the exercise of his rights of defence in criminal proceedings.
I note: Law of the Judicial System instead of Courts Constitution Act – I remember that ‘constitution’ though correct confuses some non-native speakers, who think it refers to constitutional law, so there’s an argument for avoiding it. I like judicial system. Judicature Act is sometimes used, and I think that confuses people too. There are so many words beginning with ‘ju-‘ in legal English and they aren’t always understood. (Is that true of ‘judicial’ too?) I would stick to Act rather than Law.
Call in or have recourse to an interpreter – the latter is a bit pompous. ‘That is necessary’ seems a bit less idiomatic than ‘this is necessary’. I don’t know why ‘rights of defence’ is used rather than ‘rights under the law of criminal procedure’.
Section is really widely used, rather than paragraph, in English translation.
Des Weiteren bestimmt § 187 GVG in seinem Abs. 2, dass zur Ausübung der strafprozessualen Rechte eines Beschuldigten, der der deutschen Sprache nicht mächtig ist, in der Regel die schriftliche Übersetzung von freiheitsentziehenden Anordnungen sowie von Anklageschriften, Strafbefehlen und nicht rechtskräftigen Urteilen erforderlich ist.
As a rule, a written translation of custodial orders as well as of bills of indictment, penal orders and non-binding judgments shall be necessary for the exercise of the rights under the law of criminal procedure of an accused who does not have a command of the German language.
In addition, Paragraph 187(2) of the GVG provides that, as a rule, a written translation of custodial orders as well as of indictments, penalty orders and non-final judgments is necessary for the exercise of the rights of defence of an accused who does not have a command of the German language.
Not much to say here, but one point that is sometimes overlooked and is handled correctly in boht cases here: if this is a summary of the law rather than a quotation, shall is out of place. It is not used to summarize law or contract. It is used within a statute or a contract with intended binding effect, but it is not customary to us it in reporting texts.
The German law continues with the Code of Criminal Procedure. Official translation: Original translation by Brian Duffett and Monika Ebinger
Translation updated by Kathleen Müller-Rostin and Iyamide Mahdi. However, I don’t have any useful comments on this, but here it is since I’ve collated it:
Nach § 37 Abs. 3 der Strafprozessordnung (StPO) ist bei einem der deutschen Sprache nicht mächtigen Angeklagten nur das „Urteil“ zusammen mit einer Übersetzung in eine dem Angeklagten verständliche Sprache zuzustellen.
If a translation of the judgment is to be made available to a participant in the proceedings pursuant to section 187 subsections (1) and (2) of the Courts Constitution Act, the judgment shall be served together with the translation. In such cases service on the other participants in the proceedings shall be effected at the same time as service pursuant to the first sentence.
Paragraph 37(3) of the Strafprozessordnung (Code of Criminal Procedure, ‘the StPO’) provides that, for an accused without a command of the German language, only the ‘judgment’ (Urteil) must be served, together with its translation into a language the accused understands.
I think these further thoughts on DE>EN legal translation are enough for the time being.
Another legal translation and interpreting conference on the horizon:
Legal Translation and Interpreting in a Changing World: Technology – Outsourcing – Shifts
This one is in Bonn in September 2018 and is organized by Aticom and the FIT.
and is pleased to invite
translators, interpreters, academics, researchers, students and practitioners
to attend the Forum
at Gustav-Stresemann-Institut (www.gsi-bonn.de)
in Bonn, Germany, from 6th to 8th September 2018
The languages used at the Forum will be English, French and German and the topics will range from LTI standards and best practices via international cooperation to videoconferencing and machine translation.
Last Friday, June 30, the German Bundestag voted in favour of same-sex marriage, called ‘marriage for all’ (following François Hollande). The bill will no doubt be passed by the Bundesrat and signed by the President and become law in the autumn. But will there be a constitutional challenge?
June 30 was the last day of Angela Merkel’s current parliament and as there is to be a general election, the marriage-for-all bill, which had been introduced at least three years earlier, would otherwise have failed. I haven’t been following this closely and it’s a big issue, so please do further reading for details and don’t rely on me. But I believe that the Green Party applied unsuccessfully to the Federal Constitutional Court to make sure that the bill could be voted on on June 30 at the latest. (I can see the sense of the Court not intervening in the parliamentary process).
The CDU and CSU are traditionally against same-sex marriage, but on June 27 Angela Merkel permitted a free vote in the Bundestag, so suddenly it became possible for the bill to be passed, as not only some CDU and CSU members were in favour of it, but the SPD would also have been bound as part of the coalition government . The suddenness almost recalls the sudden opening of the Berlin wall in 1989.
Ms. Merkel, when asked Monday evening about gay adoption, cited what she said was a recent meeting with a lesbian who invited the chancellor to visit her and her partner’s home in Ms. Merkel’s parliamentary constituency in northern Germany, where the couple has raised at least eight foster children.
The chancellor said she had not had time to take up the invitation, but she used it as a way to illustrate that it may often be better for children to live permanently with a loving couple no matter what their sex, rather than moving from home to home in foster care.
Although Frau Merkel voted against the bill – she could be seen putting a red ticket into the ballot box – it’s been suggested that in acting this late before the election she was both avoiding a long discussion in the Bundestag and improving her chances in the election, since marriage for all was one of the issues on which Martin Schulz was going to campaign.
German legal bloggers disagree on what will happen next. Here is Maximilian Steinbeis at Verfassungsblog (lots of English there)Merkel’s Conscience:
In some way, the right always seems to succeed in making themselves believe that their reading of the constitution is somehow dictated by nature. They did that with the opening of the borders in 2015, and now they do the same with the opening of marriage in 2017. There will always be some constitutional law professor who certifies their constitutional interpretation with utmost authority, so they can keep on shaking their heads in a distressed and indignant way at the turpitude of these liberals that so blatantly disobey their own liberal constitution.
To not let them get away with that, to pierce their self-congratulatory constitutional certainty and force them to justify their readings of the law – this should be the task of constitutionalists.
Steinbeis goes on to link to Matthias Hong, who reads the Constitution differently Warum das Grundgesetz die Ehe für Alle verlangt.
A different view is presented by Andreas Schwartmann in Rheinrecht – Meinung: Diese “Ehe für Alle” ist verfassungswidrig.
People in the UK can see this 5-part serial on iPlayer – spoilers ahead.
Last week the BBC put on a program showing a fictitious murder trial but with real barristers, judge, court clerk and expert witnesses and with a jury who were randomly chosen members of the public. It reminded me of Marcel Berlin’s The Law Machine, which I watched ad nauseam with my students years ago.
The first episode I watched I thought not only the defendant and witnesses, but also the jury were actors. Not so! But those jurors were fixated on calling each others’ remarks sexist – the case involved a man charged with murdering his estranged but not quite estranged wife. For example, the relatively coherent older woman juror with experience of social services began to describe the way ‘an abusive man’ may appear amenable at first but gradually becomes domineering and controlling. She was immediately shouted down by two or three male jurors as ‘sexist’. Now this was boring if it was actors, but if it was ‘real’ people it made me worry about how one could speak about abuse and still be heard. However, I have now come to the conclusion that the jury’s remarks were tightly edited and we cannot decide from hearing a short exchange what they were like over several hours. Just like the Big Brother house and other reality TV products, you can’t trust it.
If one wanted to see the law in action, I would strongly recommend the way the barristers appeared. I particularly enjoyed the bit of bickering between them: it seemed authentic and matched my own memories.
It was odd that the judge’s closing speech was not given.
And then, in the last programme, at great length, the ‘true story’ was shown and we saw that the defendant really did kill his wife. I think it was a massive mistake to show what really happened. And above all, the way the jury’s individual votes were shown, showing that it was the women who voted guilty, and the details on how much domestic violence is not reported. An important issue, but we were to be manipulated.
This case should have ended in a not guilty verdict, not guilty for lack of evidence, but it resulted in a hung jury. Of course the jurors knew they were on TV, and that might have influenced their demeanour.
The whole thing has been well taken apart by The Secret Barrister: In forgetting our fundamental principles of justice, The Trial’s fascinating run fell down at the last:
Taking the above together, the only possible interpretation of the editorial line is: “This jury should have convicted. They didn’t, ergo they failed. What does this tell us about juries? (Clue: Maybe it’s sexism.)”
Which would be fine, had that been the premise of the programme. But it wasn’t. At least, not as far as we’d been led to believe. It was billed – accurately – as a groundbreaking docu-drama in which we would be given a unique insight into the way that juries operate. The opacity of the jury room means that, notwithstanding academic studies attempting to recreate its conditions, we know little about how juries approach their task. We have a fervent cultural faith in the inherent supremacy of trial by jury; let’s, Channel 4 suggested, cut open this sacred cow and have a rummage around inside.
As the Secret Barrister says, the jury trial is not about discovering the truth – but the programme behaved as though it was.
Obiter J also has a useful post on the programme, more about legal details and less about criticizing.
In connection with the Words to Deeds Conference 2017 I discovered a legal translation blog by John O’Shea, who does Greek to English translation. The latest post lists upcoming legal translation conferences, of which there are a few:
Round-up of forthcoming legal translation events
There are interesting links on the site too.
Also a fuller report on the conference by Jennifer Whitely on her blog Lakesidelinguist’s Blog. This probably does not refer to our local Lakeside Thurrock though:
Reflections on theWords to Deed Conference #W2D2017
At the Words to Deeds Conference it struck me how many academics are writing about legal translation nowadays, and the texts they sometimes deal with are more what I think of as real-world translation texts, rather than bilingual Canadian statutes, for example. These texts sometimes even have the names of the parties blacked out, just the way I used to use real divorce documents with blacked-out names with my students in 1982 (before legal translation was a thing).
I chose a table workshop entitled Managing conceptual differences across legal systems. Our discussion made me think of Juliette’s mantra Building Bridges Between Academia and Practice, which I see has now been extended to include & Between Translation, Interpreting, and Legal Practitioners. Academics actually need non-university legal translators, and non-university legal translators would like to see their research. But maybe academics are mainly interested in building up their list of publications, and those publications appear online on sites which are very expensive to access – unless your university provides them. So that is my first problem about building bridges: what is the toll charge?
The day before the conference I was looking at the speakers’ bios and I found an article, just published online and downloadable free of charge, by Dr. Paulina E. Wilson, one of the speakers and heading our table. This is where I got it: Interjural incommensurability in criminal law. I just skimmed it – I don’t do Polish – and found it clear, comprehensible and containing a nice diagram of the definition of going equipped in English law. Now as some of us agreed on the table, it would be great to have access to all the material on comparative law being produced with translation in mind. Because a difficult legal translation requires more hours of research than a client is likely to pay, we are keen to at least see the work done by others. I could imagine collecting a database of articles, not even book chapters necessarily, that I could mine when I needed it. But there is a paywall around a lot of academic research.
Is there a list somewhere of all the sites which charge high fees for downloading? I am sure I’m being naive, because copyright and research funding require materials to be protected. But then what bridges are we going to build?
The Words to Deeds Conference, subtitled Legal Translation to the Next Level, was held in Gray’s Inn last Saturday. Many thanks to Juliette Scott for organizing the whole thing so elegantly and thoughtfully.
I have no intention of reviewing the conference. I did, when I first started this blog, review the ATA legal conference in New York, and I realized afterwards that it was a bad idea – you would never have time to analyse and describe all the contributions, you would be bound to leave something important out, and if you did produce something of the appropriate detail, it would be so long that nobody would read it.
Please note in my photo how tasteful the stationery was, and what you probably can’t see: all the pencils were sharpened by hand. You will find video clips on Youtube on how to sharpen a pencil by knife.
However, I will write something about some thoughts I had in discussions, in a following post.