When I write about the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), like many others writing about Chinese law in English, I face translation issues, as legal concepts are embedded in language. The challenge is to find appropriate legal terminology in English for PRC Chinese legal concepts, an issue that “brother” blogger and creator of the Chinalawtranslate.com blog Jeremy Daum, and more broadly, anyone dealing with the Chinese legal system confronts directly.
He Fan , head of the planning department of the SPC’s judicial reform office, prolific translator of (English language) books on the US courts, particularly the US Supreme Court, has recently written about English translation of Chinese court terminology in his Wechat public account. Earlier, the Chinalaw listserv also hosted a discussion of the translation of some specific Chinese court terms. To bridge the translation worlds, I am summarizing He Fan’s views on the translation of court terms, with my own comments in italics. He Fan’s sources are listed at the end, as are details on how to make comments or corrections.
- 司法机关: literally translated as “judicial organs,” which in English generally refers to the courts only, but in Chinese sometimes means 公检法 (public security/procuratorate/courts). Foreign journalists often have difficulty understanding this term. He Fan notes that if the term is translated as the “Judicial Branch,” it appears to mean the court system [and to an English speaker implies a system with multiple branches of government];
- 审判机关: He Fan translates as “Adjudicative Body,” which he says is generally accepted internationally, but in my own experience “judicial organ” is used more frequently.
- 审判员: he considers “judge” more easily understood (my 1993 article had a discussion of this vs. 法官);
- The Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China”–He Fan notes that internationally, SPC is the usual abbreviation;
- 地方各级人民法院: local people’s courts at various levels;
- “基层人民法院: He Fan notes several different usages–“primary people’s court”; “grass-roots people’s court”; “basic people’s court”; “district people’s court”–he prefers primary people’s court.
He Fan’s example: 北京市海淀区人民法院：Primary People’s Court of Haidian District of Beijing Municipality of the People’s Republic of China; abbreviated as Haidian Primary People’s Court [I would personally move “Haidian District, to before “Primary/basic level people’s court]
7. 中级人民法院”–usual translation is “intermediate people’s court.”
8. 高级人民法院:，“higher people’s court;，“high people’s court,” or rarely “superior people’s court”–He Fan’s preference is “High Court;”
9. 专门法院: He Fan notes that “Special Court” is sometimes seen but “Specialized Court” is more accurate，and won’t be mistaken for special tribunal。
- 军事法院: “Military Court”；
- 海事法院: “Maritime Court”；
- “知识产权法院”译为“Intellectual Property Court”；
- “金融法院”译为“Financial Court”；
- “互联网法院: “Internet Court,” He Fan says some translate it as “Court for Internet,” but the usual translation appears to be Internet Court.
Internal court organizations
In his first Wechat article, He Fan splits internal court institutions into those designated by law and other ones, but this blogpost will disregard that distinction.
- 独任庭: single judge panel
- 合议庭: collegial panel;
- 国家赔偿委员会: “the State Compensation Committee.” I have also seen “State Compensation Commission.”
- 审判委员会: “Judicial Committee”，or “Adjudication Committee,” He Fan prefers “Adjudication Committee,” as it is less likely to be confused with committees created by the judiciary. My view is that “judicial committee” is used more widely.
- 庭：He Fan mentions chamber, division, tribunal, or “adjudication tribunal,” but he himself prefers “division,” as he considers it more accepted internationally, so:
- 立案庭: Case-filing Division;
- 民事审判庭: Civil Division;
- 刑事审判庭: Criminal Division;
- 行政审判庭: Administrative Division;
- 审判监督庭: Judicial Supervision Division;
- 速裁庭: Summary Division;
- 人民法庭: but long-established practice is to translate it as people’s tribunal.
The recently established specialized “tribunals” (审判法庭), such as “深圳金融法庭“ (Shenzhen Financial Tribunal) should be translated as “Shenzhen Financial Court,” so by the same reasoning “最高人民法院第一巡回法庭: The 1st Circuit Court of SPC” (personally I would move “SPC” to before 1st Circuit).
- 法院干警: literally court cadres & policeman: He Fan believes the term is confusing to foreigners and suggests using “judges, court staff, and judicial personnel.” I have previously translated it as “court officials, (cadres & police)” and discussed the issue of terminology several times.
- 首席大法, 首席法官: Chief Justice” and “Chief Judge”; 中华人民共和国首席大法官: He Fan states it should be “Chief Justice of the People’s Republic of China” and not “Supreme People’s Court Chief Justice.”
- 高级人民法院院长: [according to the Judges Law] s/he is a 大法官– “Justice,” but “Chief Judge” of his/her court;
- 副院长: the practice is to translate it as “Vice President”。“常务副院长: (the #2 in charge), generally translated as “Deputy President”，or “Executive Deputy President” (I personally have seen “Executive Vice President” more often);
- 庭长: three translations are used–“Chief Judge”；“Director”；“Head of Division.” He Fan’s view is that “Chief Judge” is least desirable, because it is least understandable by the foreign audience and can easily be confused with “court president” and prefers “Director” and for “副庭长”–Deputy Director.” My own writing is not entirely consistent–I have used “division chief” and “chief judge of _ division.”
- 审判长: the responsible judge on a three-judge collegiate panel. He Fan recommends using “Presiding Judge,” analogizing to the practice of the US federal courts.
- 高级法官: generally translated Senior Judge (of which there are ranks 1-4), not to be confused with the US federal courts’ “senior judges” (older judges with a reduced caseload).
- 书记员: He Fan advising translating as “Law Clerk” (my practice has been “clerk”); 法官助理 as “Law Assistant” (my practice has been “judge’s assistant);
- 司法警察: “Judicial Police;”
- 人民陪审员: people’s assessor;
- 技术调查官: “Technical Examination Officer.”
Court administrative offices/personnel
局: 用“Department” or “Bureau,” (my own practice is “Bureau.”)
Such as: “办公厅”“General Office”；“研究室” “Research Office”；“监察局”“Supervision Bureau”；“司法改革办公室”: “Judicial Reform Office”；“国际合作局”: “International Cooperation Bureau”；“外事办”:“International Affairs Office”；“司法行政装备管理局（处）”: “Bureau（Division） of Judicial Administration & Equipment Management” (I would personally put “Bureau or Division at the end of the phrase).
Chinalawtranslate’s glossary and links to other resources;
As cited by He Fan:
- translations by Chinalawinfo and WoltersKluwer;
- Taiwan’s Judicial Yuan’s bilingual legal glossary;
- a glossary of translation of government institutions issued by the Beijing government;
- Shanghai government’s glossary;
- Shenzhen government’s glossary;
- Analysis by foreign scholars.
Those who disagree, have comments or have additions to the above list, please contact me at email@example.com or use the blog’s comment function.