Schwurgericht in English

I’ ve been translating a text with a Schwurgericht in it. This is a term I haven’t had to deal with in English since I taught translation up to 2002. This is what I used to tell my students:

Schwurgericht n ≈ criminal court with 3 professional judges and 2 lay judges dealing with serious crimes (at Landgericht)

There are recommendations by the Auswärtiges Amt (Federal Foreign Office) online for translations of court names such as Landgericht (see the list of PDFs at Terminologie). People might want to use these. But there are no recommendations on translations of the names of the various types of court or chamber within the courts.

If you translate Landgericht as Regional Court, as the FFO suggests, it seems a good idea to me because it does not sound like any existing UK or US court. The terms local – regional – higher regional suggest a hierarchy too. The original name Landgericht should be retained somewhere in the translation though, for clarity.

So what about Große Strafkammer? That’s a court (chamber if you like) that deals with serious criminal matters and it sits with three professional judges and three lay judges. (Sits with makes me think of the joke: Mit ihm ist ein großartiger Mensch gestorben – Was, zwei Menschen in einem Grab?). You could say Large (?) Criminal Court/Chamber/Division. You might be able to avoid this detail depending on the context of the translation.

Schwurgericht is a kind of Große Strafkammer which deals the very most serious offences. It has no jury. Is it worth keeping the German word and defining it?

At all events, it’s a superb example of useless translation advice on the Web.

A discussion on LEO rejects jury court but contains suggestions of magistrates’ court (a lower level and a specific UK term) and trial court (US term for a court of first instance – you might use it in some contexts but it’s rather broad).

A discussion on ProZ has some good suggestions but the asker goes for a bad one. (I find those discussions useful sometimes). Crown court for a German court is mad (comes from Romain, who is usually good), and court of assizes is also too specifically UK, apart from having ceased to exist in the early 1970s. A non-member writes:

I came to a conclusion from all the opinions stated hereunder and that is:”trial by jury according to the German legal System”. Do you agree?

Well, not really. I see I’ve given my two cents’ worth in the past, to a poster who said there are twelve jurors in the Schwurgericht – this was apparently the case in 1879.

It does begin to look as if jury court was an appropriate translation in the late 19th century, and as if certain terms are enshrined in dictionaries and fester away there for centuries.

8 thoughts on “Schwurgericht in English

    • Thanks, that’s a good idea. I don’t think it ever occurred to me. I have used major/minor in the past. Large/big often sounds odd in titles.

  1. Is there a specific reason for not considering the “official translations” of the German Federal Ministry of Justice, i.e. on ?

    There they prefer “jury court” in JGG ( ) and “criminal division with lay judges (Schwurgericht)” in both StPO ( ) and GVG ( ).

    • The only specific reason that occurs to me is early dementia. Thanks for the suggestion. Criminal division with lay judges works for me, although I have not yet researched ‘division’, which in England and Wales usually means Abteilung (Family Division) but obviously in some English-speaking place means a court.
      I will have a look at the translations when I get time. I know the ZPO translation seems a bit wobbly to me. Translations of these materials into languages other than German are intended solely as a convenience to the non-German-reading public. I see they write ‘Any discrepancies or differences that may arise in translations of the official German versions of these materials are not binding and have no legal effect for compliance or enforcement purposes.’ Yet I believe some are regarded as official.

    • Btw I uzsed to havew a printout from the internet from some official body or other showing all these courts and giving English translations. I may find it – it may even still be online.

  2. “Official” translations of any German statute in the sense that they are in any way legally binding (as international treaties or European law may exist in several translations each of them binding to the same extent) do not exist at all. So even the translations on the website metioned above are in that sense definitely not official. But they are “officially initiated”, and a reliable interpreter should have been chosen by the Ministry.

    • I was once told that for an English translation of a German statute to be official (or IMO ‘official’), a native German lawyer had to be involved. This was the then view of the Ministry of Justice. I suppose it is not laid down anywhere, nor was there any way of assessing this native German lawyer with competence in the English language. On the one hand I see they are not official, and on the other hand I feel torn between various different attempts at standardization by various clients which are institutions with varying style guides.
      I wouldn’t use the English translations of court names if I didn’t approve of them.

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