Rechtssicherheit and Rechtsfrieden in English

Following an entry in Carob and some discussion, I decided I need to define the German and English terms involved. The following is a reminder to myself (like a lot of this weblog):

Source: Deutsches Rechtslexikon, ISBN 3 406 34649 9

Rechtssicherheit, (Rechtsbeständigkeit), and Rechtsfrieden are distinguished.

Rechtsfrieden relates to litigation. One of the purposes of court proceedings and of the legal order is to avoid disputes and create peace. Among other things, disputes should be dealt with in such a way that there are no long-term disturbances of peaceful coexistence.

Rechtssicherheit is much more of a portmanteau term. Rechtssicherheit includes the predictability of the law. (This is what I had in mind when translating Rechtssicherheit as legal certainty: I was thinking of the need for the House of Lords not to overrule itself often, because people need to be able to rely on what the law is). But it also includes the existence functioning courts that make binding decisions on the applicable law, and the enforcement of court decisions. Another aspect is that court proceedings may not be pursued ad infinitum (even if this might lead to substantive justice), but decisions must at some point become final and non-appealable, the date being decided by the legislature after weighing the interests of justice and Rechtssicherheit in the sense of peaceful coexistence (this last suggests an overlap with Rechtsfrieden).

There is a lot more. Ensuring Rechtssicherheit is the task of the legislature. Judicial proceedings must also observe the principle. There must be a hierarchy of courts; decisions must be uniform, even though German law has no system of precedent; courts must normally keep to their own decisions.

I therefore conclude:

|Rechtssicherheit| legal certainty, or certainty of the law (the latter if, like Robin, you eschew the word legal)|
|Rechtsfrieden |legal peace, US closure|

Here’s a quote from BBC News:

bq. “It’s a very good and very clear and very impressive decision which the Court of Appeals in New York has published yesterday,” said Mr Lambsdorf. [I can just hear that German accent]
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder described the court ruling as an unusually important decision. He said it was now their goal to introduce a bill to the German parliament, the Bundestag, before the summer break indicating that what he termed “legal peace” was at hand.

and at a U.S. embassy, there is another reference in the text: Eizenstat on Legal Closure Agreement in Slave Labor Negotiations (Will provide “legal peace” for companies, reparation for victims).

Of course, people use words to mean what they want them to mean, so if the translator can tell what this is, the translation may be different from the above. I would not use the word finality for Rechtssicherheit unless I knew the word was being used in that narrower sense. And yet closure has the same meaning.

The dictionaries have:
Romain Rechtsfrieden: law and order, public peace, undisturbed administration of the law
Rechtssicherheit: legal security, public safety, law and order, certainty of the law, consistency of the law

Lister/Veth
Rechtssicherheit: certainty/reliability of the law

Dietl
Rechtssicherheit: legal certainty; legal security; stability of the law

2 thoughts on “Rechtssicherheit and Rechtsfrieden in English

  1. I like your idea of ‘legal predictability’ for RS I’ve often come across.

    RF I have had the good fortune to miss out on so far.

    I quite like ‘keeping the legal peace’. Maybe over-specific to property: quiet enjoyment (of land) or quiet possession (of goods).

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