Yet another book I haven’t read

Dietrich Busse’s Recht als Text first came out in 1992. It looks like a heavy linguistics text.

From Words to Deeds describes the book as a classic on German legal linguistics and links to a video describing its value. The video shows Professor Anne Lise Kjær describing the book – in Danish, fortunately with English subtitles.

For Professor Kjaer, this book is important because it promotes an approach bringing together linguistics, jurisprudence and social science, where the institutional framework of law and the roles of judges, lawyers and lay parties in a trial are essential to understanding and analyzing the language of the law. Professor Kjaer also stresses the importance of text in a lawyer’s work.

It’s a sad fact of growing old that one can begin to say: here is a book I am unlikely to get round to.

Loss of capitals in court names

There’s going to be a ruling today on whether whole-life sentences for murder are acceptable or whether the European Court of Human Rights should prevail.

It’s in poor taste, perhaps, that the capitalization in The Guardian was what caught my eye – Joshua Rozenberg’s article:

One of the most important sentencing cases in many years comes before the court of appeal on Friday. …

At a broader level, the court will have to decide whether to follow English law or human rights law as declared by the European court in Strasbourg. Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, will certainly be taking a close interest in the outcome. …

The lord chief justice is sitting, of course. On either side of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd will be two judges who will have hoped they might now be occupying his chair: Sir Brian Leveson, president of the Queen’s bench division, and Lady Justice Hallett, vice-president of the court of appeal criminal division. Sitting with them will be Lord Justice Treacy, who succeeded Leveson as chairman of the sentencing council, and Mr Justice Burnett, a well-regarded public lawyer who was counsel to the Princess Diana inquest before he became a judge. …

It was because of a ruling of the European court of human rights delivered last July in a case called Vinter. The court’s grand chamber had found that “there must be both a prospect of release and a possibility of review” for a life sentence to be compatible with article 3 of the human rights convention, which bans “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. … the Council of Europe, which runs the human rights court. … Northampton crown courtthe Human Rights Act, courts in the UK need only “take into account” Strasbourg rulings unless it is possible to interpret them in a way that is compatible with human rights.

Queen’s bench division? Why not queen’s bench division then? Human Rights Act but human rights convention?

I wonder what the Guardian Style Guide (style guide?) would tweet on this?

Guardian, Observer and style guide

Telegraph style book on courts and crime

The Economist Style Guide on capitals:

A balance has to be struck between so many capitals that the eyes dance and so few that the reader is diverted more by our style than by our substance. The general rule is to dignify with capital letters organisations and institutions, but not people. More exact rules are laid out below. Even these, however, leave some decisions to individual judgment. If in doubt use lower case unless it looks absurd. And remember that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

Qaddafi? Benedict? Schröder?

Posted in law

Deutsche Sprache schwere Sprache: new initiative for English-speaking courts in Germany

In 2010, in a post on the first German court hearing in English, I summarized what I could find out about the success of the initiative. The planned statutory change did not come about, presumably because the legislative period came to an end.

The same plan, however, is revived in a draft statute in Hamburg: Hamburg beschließt Gesetzesinitiative. Die Gerichtssprache ist … bald auch Englisch? in the German (!) legal magazine Legal Tribune.

The plan is to encourage more parties to use the Hamburg courts for international disputes. One reason for parties to litigate abroad or to use arbitration is allegedly the fact that cases in Germany are conducted in German. Chambers for international commercial matters, where the court language could be English, are to be established if the statute is passed.

Presumably the judges and all the court staff would have to have fluent English and be able to discuss German law in English.

It’s good that not all those involved are over-optimistic. One of the comments refers to an article by Wolfgang Bernet: Vom „Law made in Germany“ zur „Justice made in English“, commenting on the initiative. He points out the lack of empirical evidence that it is specifically the language of the court that frightens people off. At all events, the Hamburg courts already deal with documents in English, and if they have any doubts, they can consult a (specialist) dictionary – including online dictionaries such as LEO (sic).

Bernet thinks language may be the last reason why parties are put off.

Rechtswahl und Gerichtsstandsvereinbarungen sind Machtfragen: die geschicktere und einflussreichere Partei setzt sich in den Verhandlungen mit ihren Klauseln durch. Und da – so ist zu hören – wird selbst von Lieferanten und Herstellern mit Sitz in Deutschland das Heimatrecht keineswegs blind übernommen; erst recht mögen sich auswärtige Parteien in dieser Rolle nicht mit den käuferfreundlichen Bestimmungen des BGB und des CISG anfreunden, zudem deren Abbedingung über § 307 BGB auch im unternehmerischen Rechtsverkehr nur sehr eingeschränkt zugelassen wird. Und da man befürchten muss, dass die deutschen Gerichte, einmal angerufen, die Absichten der Vertragsparteien wohlmeinend durchkreuzen könnten und auch Rechtswahlklauseln kritisch gegenüber stehen, geht man diesem Risiko lieber aus dem Weg. Zur Steigerung der Attraktivität hier anzusetzen, könnte Erfolg versprechender sein, als bei unveränderter Rechtslage englisch zu verhandeln.

The question then arises as to how easy it is to express German legal concepts in English, particularly in oral reaction to unexpected arguments in court.

There was an example of this in the hearing reported on in my earlier entry: the court suddenly needed to use the term Grundurteil. The term was left in German and presumably defined. Romain defines this as judgment on the basis of the cause of action (reserving the amount to a later decision). It isn’t in Dietl. There’s a question about in LEO, but the link given is now dead. We had a discussion on a translators’ mailing list about this today and decided that interlocutory judgment (as used in the online ZPO translation) is misleading, because a Grundurteil is final as far as the merits of the case are concerned. But maybe the judges would consult the online translations of statutes. After all was presumably set up to help in this. I don’t know why German courts always love Dietl and not Romain: I use both.

Deutsche Sprache leichte Sprache

Was macht der Bundes-Tag?

Bundes-Tag ist der Name für ein großes Haus in Berlin.

Und es ist der Name
für eine Gruppe von Menschen,
die in diesem Haus arbeiten.

Die Menschen in dieser Gruppe nennt man auch:

Es gibt 631 Abgeordnete.
Es sind Frauen und Männer.

Die Abgeordneten sprechen über die Gesetze
im Plenar-Saal.

Wer über 18 Jahre alt ist,
darf die Abgeordneten wählen.

Die Abgeordneten dürfen
für alle anderen Menschen in Deutschland
Entscheidungen treffen.
Sie bestimmen die Gesetze in Deutschland.

Die Abgeordneten werden alle 4 Jahre gewählt.
Das nennt man: Bundes-Tags-Wahl.
Die letzte Wahl war im Jahr 2013.
Die nächste Wahl ist im Jahr 2017.

There are quite a few sites using leichte Sprache.

Article on the subject in Die Zeit: the first centre for easy German was opened in Bremen in 2004; today there are over 80 such centres. There’s an office there which translates into leichte Sprache:

Elisabeth Otto leitet das Büro, dessen Dienste zunehmend von Behörden, Kirchen, aber auch Privatunternehmen in Anspruch genommen werden. Sie kennt alle Regeln der Leichten Sprache: kurze Wörter benutzen, sie gegebenenfalls teilen und mit Bindestrichen verbinden. Gerade das Deutsche liebt ja zusammengesetzte Hauptwörter wie Ochsenschwanzsuppe (wird zu Ochsen-Schwanz-Suppe). Verboten sind lange Sätze, Passivkonstruktionen, Negationen, der Konjunktiv. Die Satzstruktur soll einfach sein, Nebensätze dürfen nur ausnahmsweise vorkommen, aber nie eingeschoben sein.

Die vom bundesweit agierenden Netzwerk Leichte Sprache erstellten Regeln könnte theoretisch auch ein Computer beherrschen. Doch die Idee, dass ein Programm schwere in leichte Sprache übersetzen könne, amüsiert Elisabeth Otto sehr. Denn genauso wichtig wie die Erleichterung der Sprachstruktur und einzelner Begriffe ist die Reduktion des Gesagten auf das Eigentliche, das Wichtige, das Gemeinte. Und das ist wahrlich eine besondere Herausforderung, zum Beispiel, wenn ein Wahlkampfflyer in Leichte Sprache übersetzt werden soll. Was ist nichtssagend, was Schaumschlägerei, was will die Partei eigentlich sagen? Und will der Kunde am Ende tatsächlich das gesagt haben, worauf das Übersetzungsbüro seine heiße Luft reduziert hat?

(Thanks to Nina).

Legal repercussions of anglicisms: Sale

When I first encountered the word Sale in German, I was irritated, because I thought it had a legal definition in English but not in German, and it left you uncertain as to whether the items on sale were really reduced.
That was probably an oversimplification, and the law has relaxed in Germany at least.

Wikipedia defines Sale as:

Anglizismus für Sonderangebote, insbesondere für den Abverkauf von Saisonware im Saisonschlussverkauf

Die Welt recently had an article “Sale” ist ein nützlicher Proll-Anglizismus (proll = for the hoi polloi (proletariat)). There have been objections to the word, especially by old people, such as the Senioren-Initiative Nürnberg

Die letzten Unterschriftensammlungen zusammen mit dem Verein Deutsche Sprache richteten sich gegen die Umbenennung des „Frankenstadions“ in „Easy Credit Stadion“ und gegen den zunehmenden Gebrauch des Wortes „Sale“ durch den Einzelhandel. Im ersten Fall konnten wir fast 3000 Unterschriften an den Oberbürgermeister unserer Stadt, im zweiten Fall über 4000 Unterschriften an den Einzelhandelsverband übergeben.

Matthias Heine in Die Welt traces the popularity of the word to the reform of competition law in 2004. It filled a gap – it isn’t a Schlussverkauf, nor an Ausverkauf. It is therefore likely to stay with us, unless ousted by the per cent symbol %.

BBC: The Nazi murder law that still exists

BBC News has a long article by Stephen Evans on The Nazi murder law that still exists. I missed this (thanks, Robin!)

A surviving statute from 1941 means that women who kill their abusive husbands are more likely to be jailed for murder than husbands who beat their wives to death.

According to the German Association of Lawyers, the Nazis decided that a murderer was someone who killed “treacherously” or “sneakily” – “heimtueckisch” is the word in the law and it remains there today.

I did mention this in two 2003 posts, here and here. The 1941 murder definition, which still applies, is based on the mentality of the perpetrator.

The Mordparagraf has been in the news recently, as the minister of justice of Schleswig-Holstein, Anke Spoorendonk (a Dane – there is a Danish party in that Land which is permitted to sit even if it doesn’t pass the five-per-cent hurdle), is campaigning to have the statute changed. Die Zeit:

70 Jahre lang galt in Deutschland die nüchterne Definition des Reichsstrafgesetzbuches von 1871, nach der Mord “die Tödtung mit Überlegung” sei. Aber seit weiteren 70 Jahren gilt die moralisch-charakterliche Definition des NS-Staates, nach der “Mörder” ist, wer “aus niedrigen Beweggründen” töte.

There is no definition of murder, only of the murderer.

Both the BBC and Die Zeit refer to the Marianne Bachmeier case as one where a woman was likely to be found guilty of murder because shooting the killer of her daughter in court behind his back was heimtückisch (deceitful?) – and say that women who kill abusive husbands are more likely to be convicted of murder than men who kill their wives. But I can’t see how Bachmeier would not have been convicted of murder in England – does anyone disagree? She took the gun to the courtroom, shot at the man and then said she hoped he was dead. The defence of provocation would not apply, because so much time had passed since the death.

Heimtücke ist das Mordmerkmal der Schwachen. Wenn Frauen Männer töten, geschieht das deutlich seltener in offener Konfrontation als in der umgekehrten Konstellation.

But in the common law too, there has been criticism of the way women cannot usually rely on the defence of provocation. Sharon Byrd, well-known to translators for her books on legal language and her editing of the Romain dictionary, has written on the subject: Putative Self-Defense and Rules of Imputation. In Defense of the Battered Woman
. (That’s not the Sharon Byrd wanted in connection with the fatal stabbing of her husband).

The English definition of murder is also pretty weird, is still case law from some centuries ago, but has been shaped by the courts in their continuing redefinition of malice aforethought, which sounds as if it applied only to planned killings, but certainly applies to killings in the heat of the moment too – intention is required, not planning. And the German courts have shaped Paragraph 211 too.

Zwar ist der subjektive Ermessensspielraum der Richter längst durch eine Vielzahl von Regelbeispielen eingeschränkt. Aber warum sollte das Problem nur eingeschränkt und nicht behoben werden? In der Fachwelt herrscht Einigkeit, dass der Mord-Paragraf als Täterstrafrecht mit dem tatbestandsorientierten Rechtssystem der Bundesrepublik kaum zu vereinbaren ist.

The Zeit article also looks to Swiss law (also with a definition based on the perpetrator, which dates from 1942 but goes back to 19th-century ideas), and Austrian law, which solves the problem more elegantly. It apparently defines murder as every kind of intentional killing, but allows a wide range of punishments. The only criticism is that the word murder is used for a wide range of homicide offences.

Das österreichische Modell hat aus Soyers Sicht lediglich den Nachteil, “dass bei uns alles Mord heißt”. Warum also nicht von “vorsätzlicher Tötung” als gemeinsamem Grundtatbestand ausgehen? “Das Wort ‘Mord’ sollte man tatsächlich streichen”, sagt der Hamburger Kriminologe Klaus Sessar, und stattdessen lediglich zwischen fahrlässiger und vorsätzlicher Tötung unterscheiden. Der weit gefasste Strafrahmen des österreichischen Mord-Paragrafen erlaubt Strafen, die der jeweiligen Schuld und Tag angemessen sind, vor allem aber verzichtet er auf den Automatismus lebenslanger Haft.

Songs of George Burns sung by Scots in Fürth

I intended to leave this topic (see recent entry) but now see that the Burns Night festivities in Fürth took place later than I thought. Photos of the event.

Das Bühnenprogramm bot den Zuschauern jede Menge Abwechslung. Jenni Heron sang zum Beispiel Lieder von George Burns.

It’s a long time since I’ve thought about George Burns, who died in 1996. Apparently he was born Nathan Birnbaum, not a very Scottish name.

But I do remember Jenni Heron, not only as a member of Nuremberg’s Scottish Vorzeigefamilie, but as a member of the cast of one of the wonderful musicals put on by the US forces when they were still in Fürth and the base had the biggest military court outside the USA and a small theatre called Stage 13 in Building 13 (all now demolished or converted into flats). One missed the exciting murder trials and the singing and dancing in a small and cavernous theatre.

Some kind of successor to Stage 13 apparently exists, albeit with a British spelling, presenting pantomimes: Theatre 13. And there have been English-language carol services in Erlangen featuring the unfortunately named choir SING A-MOLL.

Legal repercussions of anglicisms: Mopsgate

Last week the suffix -gate was chosen as the German Anglicism of the Year 2013. Unusually, this award recognizes the positive contribution of anglicisms to the German language. -gate has been around a long time, even in German, but was particularly common last year.

I seem to have missed Mopsgate (puggate). And this despite the fact that I recently saw two women and six pugs on the corner. This was explained when I traced a pug breeder to a nearby road. Trevor kindly found a collection of German pug quotations for me.

The story is the disappearance of a 6-kilo gold-painted stone figure of a pug from a monument to Loriot, the stage name of Vicco von Bülow, who famously said that life without a pug is possible, but meaningless. The pug figure was placed on a stele by unknown persons, so it was not physically attached nor part of the original monument. It may have been blown off and shattered.

Stuttgart sucht also weiter einen Mops aus Stein, 27 Zentimeter groß und sechs Kilo schwer. Die Polizei kennt den Fall, hat aber nur so lange ermittelt, bis feststand, dass die Figur nicht zum Denkmal gehört. „Das wäre ja dann ein besonders schwerer Fall von Diebstahl“, sagte ein Sprecher. Es liege keine Anzeige vor. „Keine Beschädigten, keine Beschuldigten, keine Straftat – so ist das bei der Polizei.“

There is a lot of literature about pugs in German, not just by Jandl. I remember from Boris Godunov ein Mops kam in die Küche und stahl dem Koch ein Ei, but I am indebted to Trevor for the other link. And apparently Queen Victoria had multiple pugs (why did the Queen descend to corgis?)