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A comment on the recent question about the possibility of U.S. laws in Spanish mentioned an assumption that Puerto Rican law would be mostly in Spanish.

Not being familiar with Puerto Rican law, this comment just made me curious whether or not that assumption is correct. Are Puerto Rican laws indeed written primarily (or entirely) in Spanish? Or are they written primarily or entirely in English? Or are they written in both in parallel?

It seems that having them written in Spanish only would be problematic for federal court cases arising from them, since the federal courts (including the one in Puerto Rico) would be conducting any proceedings in the English language - and comparing the Puerto Rican laws with U.S. federal law and existing case law, which are also in English. On the other hand, having laws that much of the local populace couldn't read would also be problematic.

(As background for those who may not be familiar with Puerto Rico, it is a territory of the United States, but Spanish is by far the primary local language there.)

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  • 1
    having laws that much of the local populace couldn't read would also be problematic — for the large majority of civilisation, the majority of the local populace couldn't read or could only read very little. Only a minority of the population ever try to read a law, and this fraction was probably even much smaller before there was widespread access to the internet.
    – gerrit
    May 13 at 15:29
  • @gerrit Agreed for the most part. While I would agree that it's not completely untenable for a large majority of the population to be unable to read the law, I would argue that it's better for a society that aims to be open and democratic if the people can read the law directly (whether they choose to do so is another matter, of course.)
    – reirab
    May 13 at 15:50
  • In my comment, "majority of civilisation" should have been "majority of history". Yes, it's better if people can read the law directly, but translating laws works fine (EU employs lots of translators for this end, although I'm not sure how the EU handles differences in interpretation between different language versions).
    – gerrit
    May 13 at 16:10
  • @gerrit Yes, I knew what you meant. I thought of the same thing when writing the question, but was trying to not get the question off on too much of a tangent. My meaning there was just that I would consider it to be in the public interest for people to be able to read the law, not that it was an absolute imperative.
    – reirab
    May 13 at 16:15
  • @gerrit All versions have in principle equal weight, when it seems there could be a discrepancy, the EUCJ will look at all versions (leveraging its "lawyer-linguists" and the staff of individual judges, which traditionally includes at least one person who speaks the language of the country the judge is from).
    – Relaxed
    May 14 at 18:17

2 Answers 2

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It depends on the language used to pass the statutes, but if in doubt then Spanish prevails.

See section 13 of the Civil Code:

In case of discrepancy between the English and Spanish texts of a statute passed by the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico, the text in which the same originated in either house, shall prevail in the construction of said statute, except in the following cases:

  • (a) If the statute is a translation or adaptation of a statute of the United States or of any State or Territory thereof, the English text shall be given preference over the Spanish.

  • (b) If the statute is of Spanish origin, the Spanish text shall be preferred to the English.

  • (c) If the matter of preference cannot be decided under the foregoing rules, the Spanish text shall prevail.

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  • Who determines a “discrepancy”? I can’t imagine any law translates perfectly, and there are always multiple interpretations, even of single language laws.
    – Tim
    May 13 at 20:02
  • 4
    @Tim "who determines a discrepancy?": the court that has to decide precisely what a law means and how it applies in a given context.
    – phoog
    May 13 at 20:49
  • 7
    Suddenly I wonder what it says in the Spanish text of section 13 of the Civil Code. :-)
    – ruakh
    May 14 at 20:25
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According to Wikipedia:

Puerto Rico['s]... legal system operates primarily in... Spanish. However, because the U.S. federal government operates primarily in English, the result is that Puerto Rican attorneys are typically bilingual in order to litigate in English in U.S. federal courts and to litigate federal preemption issues in Puerto Rican courts.

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  • Should I delete this because @Rick's answer, posted while I was typing this, is more detailed?
    – Someone
    May 13 at 6:01
  • 4
    No need to delete, as it contains some information not in Rick's answer, re: attorneys being bilingual. May 13 at 13:35

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