A colleague recently had the word unverzüglich in a legal text and wondered whether it mattered which of the many alternatives to choose.

Romain: prompt, forthwith, without delay

Dietl-Lorenz: (ohne schuldhaftes Zögern) without culpable (or undue) delay

I had wrongly remembered this as without unreasonable delay. Other renderings have been immediately and with all due speed

  1. I note that unverzüglich ist one of the words given a statutory definition (Legaldefinition) in the Civil Code. Here it is:

Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB)
§ 121 Anfechtungsfrist

(1) Die Anfechtung muss in den Fällen der §§ 119, 120 ohne schuldhaftes Zögern (unverzüglich) erfolgen, nachdem der Anfechtungsberechtigte von dem Anfechtungsgrund Kenntnis erlangt hat. Die einem Abwesenden gegenüber erfolgte Anfechtung gilt als rechtzeitig erfolgt, wenn die Anfechtungserklärung unverzüglich abgesendet worden ist.(2) Die Anfechtung ist ausgeschlossen, wenn seit der Abgabe der Willenserklärung zehn Jahre verstrichen sind.

Note the way a statutory definition is indicated. Further research reveals that this definition is regarded as applying even outside the Civil Code.

2. Does it then matter how precisely it is translated into English? Immediately seems to suggest more speed, but does that matter? Perhaps not, as long as your translation is for information only and makes it clear that German law prevails. However, without undue delay or without culpable delay does the job well.

3. Dietl wins over Romain here (as so rarely). Von Beseler has:

adj immediate, prompt, instant(aneous);
adv immediately, promptly, instantly; forthwith; at once; on the spot; without delay; at short notice, at a moment’s notice

The BGB meaning is missing, and when it comes to choosing between the other alternatives, legal translators are left to themselves. Nor is there any indication in Dietl of the source of the definition.

LATER NOTE: As Inge Noeninger points out on Twitter (see comment too) unverzüglich contains the word Verzug, delay or default, which is why translating it as immediately is avoided.

9 thoughts on “Unverzüglich

  1. Thank you for this update. We most often see and use ourselves “without delay”. I was once told by a German lawyer well versed in both systems that the German term “unverzüglich” has the Element of “Verzug” in it, implying the related consequences under the statute. This is why we stay away from “immediately, promptly” and all these other terms that have their rightful place in colloquial language.

  2. Yes, definitely either without delay or without undue delay is what I would use. Without culpable delay works too.

  3. I recently had “unverzüglich, d. h. ohne schuldhaftes Zögern (§ 121 Abs. 1 BGB)” in a legal text I translated for a German supervisory authority, which I rendered as “without undue delay, i.e. without culpable delay (section 121(1) of the BGB)”.

    In my experience at least, “without undue delay” is the default translation in legal or quasi-legal contexts.

    • That’s interesting, Adrian. It looks as if even in the UK ‘without undue delay’ is more common. Dietl (I have the new EN>DE volume) does have ‘ohne schuldhafte (ungehörige) Verzögerung Rdwdg, unverzüglich Adj./Adv.’ and some of the .eu sites shown in Linguee have ‘unverzüglich’. For ‘without unreasonable delay’ they are more varied, incl. ‘ohne unangemessene Verzögerung’

      • Robin, did you see the discussion on LIFT? The heading was ‘relative speeds’, which was rather obscure.

  4. The problem both with undue and unreasonable is of course one of construction (namely interpretation of documents) – so of a reasonable time as far as the parties, law students and the courts are concerned.

    Driving a defective car around for just 3 weeks in London meant no right to reject or of ‘Anfechtung’ as the motorist had to protest ‘right away’ . http://www.answers.com/Q/Bernstein_v_Pamson_Motors_Ltd_1987_2_All_ER_220
    However, that case has never been followed.

    As I had been discussing with a lawyer yesterday, the wish for immortality may mean a claimant cryonically frozen – just before realising he or she had a legal remedy – may have a time-limits problem raising a claim if resuscitated a century hence….

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