Legal Spanish: 4 polysemic words (causante, lesión, práctica and prestación)
In one of my previous posts on the characteristics of legal Spanish I addressed polysemy, i.e the capacity of certain words to carry several meanings. Today, I would like to talk about four polysemic Spanish words having one or more meanings in general language and others in a legal context: ‘causante‘, ‘lesión‘, ‘práctica‘ and ‘prestación‘.
The dictionary of the Royal Academy of Spanish Language (RAE) defines this word as ‘que causa‘, meaning [a person or thing] who or that causes or originates something. But what does this word denote in a legal context?
The dictionary also defines it as ‘la persona de quien proviene un derecho que alguien tiene‘ (the person from whom a right someone has originates). Narrowing the meaning even further, we find this term more commonly used in wills and successions, meaning the person who, upon his or her death, initiates the mortis causa process and whose estate he or she intends to be transferred by reason of such death. In English, this could be the testator or the deceased. In turn, the person receiving that which the ‘causante‘ intended is called ‘causahabiente‘.
Note, however, that whereas ‘causante‘ is more widely used in mortis causa processes, it also extends to include inter vivos gifts, meaning the person in whom title of the property was vested prior to its transfer to the successor in title or beneficiary.
The general and widely used meaning of ‘lesión‘ is injury or bodily harm, but, if we refer to the Royal Academy dictionary, it is also defined simply as harm, detriment or prejudice. We see, therefore, that the meaning extends from bodily injuries to harm in general.
In constitutional law, for example, when used in conjunction with ‘derechos‘ or ‘bienes‘ (property), it means infringement/violation and damage, respectively. See, for example, section 106 of the Spanish Constitution: ‘Los particulares, en los términos establecidos por la ley, tendrán derecho a ser indemnizados por toda lesión que sufran en cualquiera de sus bienes y derechos, salvo en los casos de fuerza mayor, siempre que la lesión sea consecuencia del funcionamiento de los servicios públicos‘.
In Spanish criminal law, we can find the term ‘lesión‘ in plural (‘lesiones‘). There is an offence called ‘delito de lesiones‘, defined in section 147 of the Spanish Criminal Code (Código Penal) as ‘El que, por cualquier medio o procedimiento, causare a otro una lesión que menoscabe su integridad corporal o su salud física o mental, será castigado, como reo del delito de lesiones con la pena de prisión‘, ie ‘He who, by any means or procedure, causes an injury to another person undermining such person’s physical integrity or physical or mental health shall be punishable by imprisonment‘.
But there is yet another area of law where the term ‘lesión‘ appears. In Contract law, it is used in relation to the economic loss suffered by a party (‘parte lesionada‘) to a purchase agreement the price of which is unfair and abusive.
We are used to seeing the word ‘práctica‘ in day-to-day language and also in relation to the performance of functions as part of a profession (‘práctica de la medicina‘; also ‘ejercicio de la medicina‘). But where can we find it legal language?
The phrase ‘práctica de la prueba‘ is used in Spanish civil and criminal procedural law. In civil proceedings, on which I will focus for these purposes, it is the third step in the evidential stage of the proceedings, the other two being ‘proposición de la prueba‘ and ‘admisión de la prueba‘.
During the ‘proposición de la prueba‘, the submission of evidence is requested by the parties to (or, in special cases, recommended by) the Court in order to prove their case.
At the ‘admisión de la prueba‘ stage, the Court decides whether the evidence proposed by the parties is admissible.
Finally, at the ‘práctica de la prueba‘ stage, which takes place either before or at trial, i.e. in the Court’s premises or elsewhere, if necessary, witness, expert and/or documentary evidence previously proposed and considered admissible by the Court is adduced or examined. This is the stage at which the parties finally verify the facts in issue not yet proven or solve any discrepancies between them regarding those facts by putting forward documentary evidence and examining witnesses and experts. It could be said that it is at this stage where the verification of facts is finally ‘put into practice’ by means of evidence.
‘Prestación’ can sometimes be a confusing term to translate because of its broad meaning. In a general sense, it means ‘lending’. When used in conjunction with ‘personal’ (‘prestación personal‘), it denotes a tax imposed to residents of a town or municipality and with ‘social’ (relating to Social Security), it means welfare or social benefits. It can also be used to denote other financial aids granted by the State (also called ‘subsidios‘). In an automotive context, it is used to express the high performance offered by a car (‘buenas prestaciones‘). When used with ‘servicios‘, it means ‘rendering’, ‘provision’ or ‘delivery’.
In a legal context, when used in conjunction with ‘consentimiento‘ (consent), it simply means ‘giving’ (consent). More specifically in Spanish Contract law, ‘prestación del consentimiento‘ is an essential requirement for the formation of a contract. It is the act of willingly agreeing, expressly or by implication, to enter into the contract according to its subject-matter and direct and immediate purpose (‘causa‘). Also in bilateral contracts, we find ‘prestación‘ and ‘contraprestación‘ (consideration), meaning something (a thing or service) moving from the promisee. A ‘prestación‘ should be, in turn, followed by a ‘contraprestación‘ moving from the promisor.
Conceptos Jurídicos – Diccionario de términos jurídicos, https://www.conceptosjuridicos.com/
Diccionario del español jurídico – Real Academia de la Lengua Española, https://dej.rae.es/
Enciclopedia Jurídica, http://www.enciclopedia-juridica.com/
Garner, Bryan A., Black’s Law Dictionary. 11.ª edición, ed. Thomson Reuters, Eagan, 2019.
Iberley, Regulación de las diversas fases del procedimiento probatorio en el ámbito civil, https://www.iberley.es/temas/regulacion-procedimiento-probatorio-proceso-civil-52611#:~:text=El%20procedimiento%20probatorio%20se%20inicia,ejecuci%C3%B3n%20de%20una%20determinada%20prueba.&text=La%20pr%C3%A1ctica%20de%20la%20prueba%20es%20la%20parte%20m%C3%A1s%20complicada,de%20forma%20previa%20al%20mismo.
Ley 1/2000, de 7 de enero, de Enjuiciamiento Civil, https://www.boe.es/buscar/act.php?id=BOE-A-2000-323
Ley Orgánica 10/1995, de 23 de noviembre, del Código Penal, https://www.boe.es/buscar/act.php?id=BOE-A-1995-25444
Spanish Constitution, https://www.boe.es/buscar/act.php?id=BOE-A-1978-31229