The regulation of offences / Rechtsenglisch

The word regeln is used a lot in German legal texts. I’ve always been irritated to see it translated as regulate.

I recently received a query quoting a question ‘Is theft regulated by the common law in England and Wales?’

This is really confusing. Often regeln means to lay down, and in this case the questioner probably meant, ‘Is theft a common-law offence?’ or ‘Is theft defined by the common law?’ The answer would be ‘No, theft is a statutory offence. There are hardly any common-law offences in England today, but one of them is murder. And theft is defined in the Theft Act’.

But this sounds as if it meant ‘Does the common law influence the definition of theft?’ The answer to this is more difficult. On the one hand, every element of theft is further defined in case law, and I suppose this is a possible meaning of regulate. But on the other hand, one has to wonder whether the questioner is stupid enough to have logically meant this.

And yet, statutes do regulate things. For instance, they may regulate the sentences for various crimes, or traffic flow can be regulated. Try a simple search of the British National Corpus, using regulated as the search word, to see how the word is commonly used.

3 thoughts on “The regulation of offences / Rechtsenglisch

  1. “Is theft regulated by common law” sounds like a good idea that never came to fruition. It’s an interesting concept, and I’m all for it. Imagine “You may only steal on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but then only if there’s a ‘j’ in the month”, or “Little old ladies may steal from teenage hoodies, but not vice-versa”.

  2. Yes indeed. But this is the English we are going to have to get used to.
    There’s a nice one on ProZ today: someone I think not a DE or EN native speaker wants a simple solution for ‘Passivprozesse’, and is disappointed that the answer doesn’t seem simple, so is going to make do with ‘passive processes’ rather than try to be 100% correct.

  3. I wonder whether your regulatory (German?) questioner meant theft perceived as a civil-law offence, as in the torts of detinue and conversion. The detinue cause of action may have been abolished in Eng. & Wales, though is still going strong in British Commonwealth jurisdictions like Canada.

    As for ‘passive processes’, let the Dutchman eat plenty of processed Dutch cheese to fortify his system for adverse reactions from his puzzled readership.

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