Two translations of the Swiss Civil Code

I’m just going through old books and find a translation of the Law of Persons, Article 1-89bis of the Swiss Civil Code, by the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce, by a team of seven translators, copyright 2006, which I bought for much bucks in the days before the Swiss government had an English version online (PDF).

Here’s the beginning without much comment, out of interest:


  Art. 1 A. Anwendung des Rechts

A. Anwendung des Rechts

1 Das Gesetz findet auf alle Rechtsfragen Anwendung, für die es nach Wortlaut oder Auslegung eine Bestimmung enthält.

2 Kann dem Gesetz keine Vorschrift entnommen werden, so soll das Gericht1nach Gewohnheitsrecht und, wo auch ein solches fehlt, nach der Regel entscheiden, die es als Gesetzgeber aufstellen würde.

3 Es folgt dabei bewährter Lehre und Überlieferung.

1 Ausdruck gemäss Ziff. I 1 des BG vom 26. Juni 1998, in Kraft seit 1. Jan. 2000 (AS 19991118; BBl 1996 I 1). Diese Änd. ist im ganzen Erlass berücksichtigt.

Art. 2 B. Inhalt der Rechtsverhältnisse / I. Handeln nach Treu und Glauben

B. Inhalt der Rechtsverhältnisse

I. Handeln nach Treu und Glauben

1 Jedermann hat in der Ausübung seiner Rechte und in der Erfüllung seiner Pflichten nach Treu und Glauben zu handeln.

2 Der offenbare Missbrauch eines Rechtes findet keinen Rechtsschutz.

Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce version

Art. 1

Application of the law

The law shall apply to all legal questions that are covered, according to wording or interpretation, by one of the provisions thereof.

In the absence of a provision of law, the judge shall decide according to customary law and, in the absence of such customary law, according to the rule he would establish as a legislator.

In this regard, he shall follow established doctrine and tradition.

Art. 2

Content of legal relationships – Acting in good faith. Good faith

Each person shall be required to exercise his rights and fulfill his duties in good faith.

The manifest abuse of a right shall not be protected by law.

Online version at

Art. 1

Application of the law

1 The law applies according to its wording or interpretation to all legal questions for which it contains a provision.

2 In the absence of a provision, the court shall decide in accordance with customary law and, in the absence of customary law, in accordance with the rule that it would make as legislator.

3 In doing so, the court shall follow established doctrine and case law.

Art. 2

Scope and limits of legal relationships – Acting in good faith

1 Every person must act in good faith in the exercise of his or her rights and in the performance of his or her obligations.

2 The manifest abuse of a right is not protected by law.

The comparison is quite interesting. Both versions are acceptable but one might translate differently in some places.

I prefer ‘in accordance with’ to ‘according to’ (which is a trivial matter), but why does the online version translate Überlieferung as ‘case law’? The court (rather than judge) as legislator – for Gesetzgeber I tend to write legislature.

I prefer ‘to perform his duties’ to ‘fulfil’ (‘fulfill’ is the US spelling) and ‘obligations’. ‘hat…nach Treu und Glauben zu handeln’ – one version has ‘must act’ and the other has ‘shall be required to…’.I would have thought ‘shall’ would be OK here – sometimes it is too strong for ‘hat…zu’.


12 thoughts on “Two translations of the Swiss Civil Code

  1. I’m curious why the first translation translated “Gericht” as “judge” and then fell into the “he” trap. It seems to me to be an entirely unnecessary modification of the source text.

  2. Yes, I find that weird. I was always pleased to have that translation, though, in the days before free online versions in English were available. By “he” trap, you mean instead of “he or she”? I see the online version does the latter.

  3. For reasons that are not clear to me, the versions of the Swiss Civil Code in the other official languages of Switzerland use the word for “case law” here (it would never have occurred to me that Überlieferung means case law):
    DE: Es folgt dabei bewährter Lehre und Überlieferung.
    FR: Il s’inspire des solutions consacrées par la doctrine et la jurisprudence.
    IT: Egli si attiene alla dottrina ed alla giurisprudenza più autorevoli.
    Romansch: El suonda en quest connex la scienza giuridica e la giurisprudenza approvada.
    That word “jurisprudence/giurisprudenza” means case law. I don’t know why the German version uses “Überlieferung” to mean that! Of course, all three versions (FR-DE-IT) are supposed to say exactly the same thing and are equally authentic, but is that really possible?
    Anyway, it seems that the Chamber of Commerce got it wrong by only looking at the German version, n’est-ce pas ?

  4. Ah, very helpful! I do prefer to translate out of one language, and there is no indication in the German of a problem. I suppose it is a bit like EU legislation, or is it the same in Quebec too, or does French have priority there? If there were an obvious problem, you might well go to the French.
    The famously rarely helpful Metzger dictionary of Swiss law has something here:
    Überlieferung: Rechtsprechung unter Einschluss der Entwicklung des betreffenden Rechtsinstituts in der allgemeinen Rechtsgeschichte und in den kantonalen Rechten sowie von Übung und Geschäftssitte.
    But no source is given.

  5. Well, Tom, that’s one for the next edition of your excellent trilingual Swiss Law dictionary.

    I do remember you mentioning on several occasions (possibly including the 2017 ASTTI Financial Translation Summer School in Spiez/CH) that it’s always worthwhile to take a look at other language versions of Swiss legislation or other official documents if there’s a seemingly incongruous (or even undocumented) term in the German version.

  6. Re or ‘ad’ RobinB’s first point, the first version assumes a single-judge/ Friedensrichter – District Judge (?) court – which seems in Switzerland quite unusual e.g. for a three-panel Bezirksgericht

    Perhaps there isn’t in (Swiss-)German a distinction, as there is in Spanish, between a ‘juzgado’ as a single-justice court and a ‘tribunal’ as a multi-judge court.

    In the second case, too, ‘legislative body’ for the court als Gesetzgeber might have skirted around the single, autocratic legislator vs. national legislature translation chestnut.

  7. Robin and Adrian: Actually, I should read my own post more carefully: a footnote indicates that before 2000 (amendments passed in 1998) the word ‘Richter’ was used instead of ‘Gericht’. You can see the footnote there.
    ‘1 In folgenden Bestimmungen des Zivilgesetzbuches13 wird der Ausdruck «der Richter» durch den Ausdruck «das Gericht» ersetzt:’…

  8. Thanks for clearing up that issue, Margaret. But there’s still no excuse for exclusively using the masculine form in English. One alternative to the “he or she” formulation that Tom West suggests is to use the possessive form of the noun, i.e. “the judge’s”, even if It may sometimes make for a rather more wordy translation.

  9. Yes,there are a number of techniques to avoid ‘he or she’. ‘He or she’ has even been used in statutes in the more distant past. As a translator, you don’t always want to use the plural, for example, as it would move too far from the original. But I think the problem is that some German clients don’t understand the need for it. I haven’t investigated the German side of things, but it seems to me that the German argument is that the masculine includes the feminine, and at all events it has to be followed grammatically, whereas in English it is less a grammatical thing and more a social.
    See earlier post :
    including a link to a post by Charlie Bavington:
    Another, citing Thornton on drafting:
    And one on the Interpretation Act:

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