‘Translating’ court names DE>EN

Some basic notes as background to anything I record later (for instance, further notes on Austrian courts).

What is the purpose of the translation?
Who is going to read it?

1. If it’s just a newspaper article, the name of the German court may be irrelevant.
e.g. BBC News on Ryanair:

bq. A German court has ruled that the budget airline Ryanair cannot use the word “Duesseldorf” for an airport 70 kilometres (42 miles) from the city.
The court in Cologne said that Ryanair’s term “Niederrhein (Duesseldorf)” was deceptive advertising because the airport was too far from the city.

(It was a Landgericht, a court of first instance dealing with more serious matters).

But if the court is of any significance whatever, the German name should be quoted at least once.

(For further tactics, read on)2. You can write the German name with a definition in brackets.

bq. The court was the Cologne Landgericht (a court of first instance dealing with more serious or more expensive matters / matters with a higher value in dispute). The Landgericht held…

But some clients / readers don’t like to see German names in an English text.

3. You can invent an English name. This is not really ‘translating’ the court’s name. It is using a label. For instance, district court for the Austrian Bezirksgericht may convey the right general impression for Ireland and some other countries, and an impression of the right level for Scotland; for the USA it will be confusing. But as long as you consistently write District Court (Bezirksgericht), your text is comprehensible. As my colleague in Erlangen used to say, you could even write Rice Pudding (Bezirksgericht) and be comprehensible.

Information on Irish courts here.

You might or might not want to work some more information about the court into the text.

The district court (Bezirksgericht) is the lowest court of first instance in Austria.

4. This use of an English name for the foreign court is very widely practised (not least by those translating from languages not well known, such as Hungarian, or with a different writing system, such as Russian). Note that some labels / English names carry more information than others. For instance, the German Auswärtiges Amt suggests Local Court for Amtsgericht, and to my mind local court does sound like a court of first instance dealing with minor matters.

Hence my suggestion of recently, which I will not repeat in full here:

F = first mention
L = later mentions

System 1

F Local court of first instance (Amtsgericht)
L Local court

F Regional court of first instance (Landgericht)
L Regional court
If the Landgericht is acting as an appellate court, then just Regional court throughout

5. You can’t be 100% consistent, because some courts have acquired generally recognized English names, such as Federal Court of Justice for Bundesgerichtshof, or Federal Constitutional Court. You don’t need to put the German in brackets here, but you may.

6. Those working in Britain or the USA may do texts that go to one jurisdiction. Those of us in Germany often find our texts need to be understood by people in Britain, the USA, and Europe. But even translations used just in Britain or the USA may generate further texts that return to Germany, where not just British or U.S. English speakers will deal with them.

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