Juries and Mixed Courts in Civil-Law Systems. Part I: Europe

Juries are a form of lay participation in court proceedings, in that juries are empaneled with lay persons selected for a given case. They act as triers of fact, whereas the judge acts as the trier of law. Juries date back to the English Magna Carta in 1215, but they also have earlier roots tracing back to Roma, with juries that likely were not identified as such. As the US Jury developed, so have jury systems outside the common-law sphere.

The role of judges and prosecutors varies by the legal tradition in a particular country’s jurisdiction: inquisitive or adversarial approach. Civil law legal systems generally use the inquisitive approach more, whereas the common law systems follow the adversarial approach. Many systems, however, are hybrid, in that they traditionally followed the inquisitive approach, but have adopted (or attempted to do so) characteristics of the adversarial approach.

Under the inquisitive approach, the judge oversees the criminal case and directs the process. Particularly they are more involved in an extensive preliminary investigation process to determine whether a crime was committed, and ultimately avoid, as possible, bringing an innocent person to trial. This investigation process is called Sumario or Instrucción in Spanish-speaking jurisdictions, where Judges are known as jueces sumariantes / instructores / de instrucción (investigating judges), described in Spanish as: “el juez que instruye el sumario.” The Civil Law Tradition book refers to them as “instructing judges” and mentions that [depending on the jurisdiction] the judge deciding the case then considers the summary record transmitted to him/him by the hearing judge (114-115).

Under the adversarial approach, the judge serves as a neutral referee or passive umpire to ensure fairness to the accused, and as an arbiter of the law to ensure that the legal rules are followed in criminal procedure. Both sides are heard in an open contest between the prosecution and defense (following the “Adversarial principle,” e.g., the right of confrontation) to determine the facts and application of the law accurately in the adjudication process. In this way, the lawyers are the “competing directors” of the “play” that is put on before the trier of fact when they are also “super-actors” not only performing but creating their own part as the play progresses. As though they direct the proceedings and divert attention away from the accused, while the continental judge directs the proceedings and focuses on the accused.

More of this comparative approach can be read in Adversary Excesses in the American Criminal Trial by the Notre Dame Law Review. With that said, when opening a case in criminal procedure, generally, there is a preliminary investigation stage in civil law systems, where there would be a preliminary proceeding in common-law systems.

In Western Europe, particularly France, separate assessment and bodies of fact and law were abolished and replaced by mixed courts. In mixed courts (tribunales mixtos; tribunales de escabinanos; escabinados; escabinatos), there is no verdict (indeed, there are exceptions to this rule), as the judicial body functions as a single court where lay judges and professional judges reach a decision in the form of a judgment of acquittal or conviction (Sentencia absolutoria o condenatoria).

Like caselaw, juries have been adopted in many civil law systems, making them hybrid.  As my colleague Rebecca Jower explains in her lexicon of Spanish-English legal terminology, with a whole section on Spanish Jury Trial terminology (23.3 Proceso ante el Tribunal del Jurado / Trial by Jury), Spain has Tribunales de Jurado, which operate more like jury trials (rather than a court in a physical sense) in provincial courts, superior courts, and the Spanish Supreme Court. Spain even has its own Jury Legislation effective since 1995 (Ley Orgánica 5/1995, de 22 de mayo, del Tribunal del Jurado, setting out jury trials), available in PDF here.

A law journal article in Spanish worth checking out, with considerable terminology on mixed court and jury systems, is El Jurado Español, El Jurado Anglosajón Y El Escabinato. Instrucciones Y Veredicto. The Spanish Jury was established following the “modelo de Escabinato” (mixed court systems, consisting of professional and lay judges)––continental style.

Spain stands unique from Western European jurisdictions, in that it sort of had adopted the notion of “unanimous lay jury” in favor of a mixed court model, keeping the trying of fact and law inseparable and satisfying the constitutional requirement for reasoned verdict, as particularity provided in the 1995 Jury Legislation and commonly used in the mixed court model, in contrast with the US jury.

To conclude this post, I will discuss Latin American juries and include a related term list in Part II in the next post.


Jower, Rebecca. Thematic Lexicon of Spanish-English Legal Terminology.

El Jurado Español, El Jurado Anglosajón y El Escabinato

Kessel, Gordon Van. “Adversary Cecesses in the American Criminal Trial,” Notre Dame Law Review.

Merryman, John Henry and Pérez-Perdomo, Rogelio. The Civil Law Tradition: An Introduction to the Legal Systems of Europe and Latin America, Fourth Edition, Redwood City: Stanford University Press, 2018.

Ley Orgánica del Tribunal del Jurado (“Spanish Jury Act”) (Ley Orgánica 5/1995, de 22 de mayo, del Tribunal del Jurado), https://www.boe.es/eli/es/lo/1995/05/22/5/con

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Yes, you read that right! And it’s quite intriguing to see a number of online posts, articles and even websites of law firms talking about “notaries public” (“NP”) in their civil-law jurisdictions, when in the US we have civil-law notaries carrying out the very same or similar acts as Notario in the civil law legal systems.  

So there comes the need for knowing the difference between a Notary Public in the US – which is a common-law notary – and a Notario in Spanish-speaking countries when translating legal documents. More often than not, the latter is mistakenly rendered as “Notary Public.” When translating the Spanish term, it should convey the role the Notario has in civil law countries, as NP is a common-law notary.

Given the substantial differences across common-law and civil-law jurisdictions, let’s examine the roles of the two capacities at the fundamental level:

US Notary PublicNotario
Unlike a Notario, a NP is in a lower-level post.Unlike a NP, a Notario is a law-trained professional or high-ranking official.
While requirements to become a NP vary from state to state, the applicant usually must be a US-citizen and resident in the state where he or she seeks commission.He or she usually holds a law degree or has a license to practice law in a given jurisdiction.To become a Notario, the candidate often needs to have several years of law practice, depending on the jurisdiction.
The duty of a NP is to certify the authenticity of the documents and parties thereof, which can include taking acknowledgements, administering oaths and taking depositions, among other activities depending on the state jurisdiction.He or she has broad range of duties, such as representing others before government bodies and signing documents (especially for real estate purposes).  

As the title of this post implies, there are several US territories or states where civil-law notaries are established (given their hybrid legal systems and history under civil codes). Notaries in Puerto Rico and Florida are similarly as described in the right column above. The National Notary Association notes that “A civil law Notary has training and duties similar to an attorney, and is authorized to prepare legal documents, authenticate transactions and advise participants in certain legal matters.”

In Louisiana, however, the aspiring candidate does not necessarily need to be law-trained, but having a license to practice law in Louisiana waives the general requirement of having to pass the state notary exam to become a Louisiana Notary, which the Professional Civil Law Notaries Association states is a “CIVIL LAW NOTARY and has broad powers usually reserved for attorneys in other states.  The Louisiana Civil Law Notary can draft, prepare and execute affidavits, acknowledgements and authentic acts. Louisiana Civil Law provides for much of our legal documentation to be passed by a Notary, a public official, who has qualified for a commission authorizing those powers.”

In a nutshell, a notario has legal advisory capacity and carries out a variety of legal transactions, whereas a NP has certifying or authenticating capacity. The proper Spanish translation for NP is Fedetario (público) (given its certifying authority). However, a NP in the UK is ironically a qualified lawyer, and often has prior practice as a solicitor. For more on this, I highly recommend checking out the Notaries Society in the UK, as well as Ruth and Fernando’s post in Spanish about the various roles of a NP in the US and UK.

Thus, I strongly advise rendering the Notario as “Civil-Law Notary” when translating to US English. When the distinction is not necessary in the document you are translating, simply “notary” will do. “Nonattorney Notary” is another term used by the National Notary Association that could work in some contexts (not that I personally use though, as it may not be proper for certain jurisdictions) for a notary that is not law-trained.

Like with most things, there are always exceptions to the rule. That said, I would love to hear what you think!






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Classbase: an excellent resource for translators handling academic documents and/or school records

I came across this site, while researching the grading system in Mexico, that I have found helpful when translating diplomas, transcripts, school certificates, syllabuses and other school-related documents for individuals: http://www.classbase.com/.

On there you can find information on the education system, grading system, academic credentials and a list of universities in a given country. I certainly believe this is not only useful for those translating to or from Spanish, Portuguese or English, but also to or from numerous other languages as this site presents such information for over 200 countries and territories worldwide. Practically every country you could ever think of.

Let’s say you want to look up Brazil and need to figure out the difference between Ensino fundamental (I & II) and Ensino médio. By clicking on “Education System” for this country, you can view a description of each of the two education categories. This is what you would see:


Brazilian education system

It is widely known that, unless an evaluation service provider, translators usually cannot give target country (i.e. U.S.) equivalents of the grades, degrees or credentials in the translation, and that clients would need to contact a credentials evaluation service provider for that (though I’m sure there is an exception to this!) However, on this same site, under Grading System for any given country, graduates or clients requiring translation of their school records can even consult the GPA calculator to get an idea of the US equivalents of their source country school grades. One can consult and compare Brazilian grades, for example, on the Double Letter Scale:


Brazil_grade conversion

Pretty cool site and features, I must say. And quite up-to-date, seemingly.

Now over to you readers, thoughts on this site? Any other related webpages or resources you might recommend for translating said documents?

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New in the SpanPort Blogosphere

As I think about what to share and post in this blog, here is this buzzfeed page that popped up somewhere within my social media circle of multilingual friends:

17 Things You’ll Only Understand If You Studied A Foreign Language at University

This was just what I needed to make my day when I initially saw it. Too good to be true and hilarious! Especially for people that studied languages in the 2000s decade. If I ever need to remember the date when I started blogging or to remind myself why I ever studied Spanish as my major in college, I can at least get some laughter each time I read this again. Never a dull moment with buzzfeed, right?

Feel free to comment below topics you would like to see addressed in this blog. You can easily follow this blog and receive updates (every time a new blog post is published) by entering your email address in the box to the right under Follow Blog Via Email. Next post coming up shortly!



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