Friday, 17 May 2013

English and Polish Courts Explained

The knowledge of the legal systems, when translating legal documents, e.g., judicial decisions, includes also familiarity with the hierarchy of courts. And here, we can spot considerable differences between civil and common law.
The Polish administration of justice consists of courts and tribunals[1]. While the Polish Constitution (Chapter VIII) distinguishes only two tribunals: Constitutional Tribunal and the Tribunal of State, the structure of the court system is of much more complexity. The Constitution of the Republic of Poland enlists four major kinds of courts:

The administration of justice in the Republic of Poland shall be implemented by the Supreme Court, the common courts, administrative courts and military courts.

        [The Constitution of the Republic of Poland of 2nd April 1997; art.175(1)][2]

     More often than not, legal documents that translators work with are issued by or for the common courts, and therefore, we will focus on them, leaving administrative and military courts perhaps for another blog post?

  As far as the common courts are concerned, at the top of the hierarchy[3] of these courts there is the Supreme Court (Sąd Najwyższy), it is the highest instance court in Poland and has its seat in Warsaw. The court handles cassations, i.e. appeals from sentences or decisions of the courts of second instance. It does not consider cases but examines whether the judgments are compliant with the law. The court consists of twelve judges and a chairman. The courts of appeal, second instance courts (Sądy apelacyjne II instancji) are next below in the hierarchy, then there are regional courts, first/second instance courts (sądy okręgowe I albo II instancji), district courts, first instance courts (sądy rejonowe I instancji) and at the very bottom are municipal courts (sądy grodzkie).

This greatly simplified presentation of the Polish common courts structure can be juxtaposed with the English courts in the Civil Division. The House of Lords, however different from Sąd Najwyższy, is the highest court in England; hence it can serve as its counterpart, although these terms are never (and should not be) used as equivalents by translators. The House of Lords, together with the Court of Appeal, which occupies a lower position in the hierarchy, deals exclusively with appeals, although the House of Lords is concerned only with ‘matters of law of general public importance’ (Alcaraz & Hughes 2002:53). The Court of Appeal hears the cases passed on from the High Court, which is a court of lower instance or in special circumstances from the county courts (translated as sądy okręgowe).
One of my previous posts shows the full structure of the English court system; it is presented in English as well as in Polish to provide some suggestions for the translation of the courts’ names.


 Alcaraz, Enrique; Hughes, Brian. Legal Translation Explained. Manchester: St. Jerome

Publishing, 2002.

Jopek-Bosiacka, Anna. Przekład prawny I sądowy. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe

PWN, 2006.

The Constitution of the Republic of Poland.

The hierarchy of English courts of Her Majesty’s Court Service

[1] ‘Tribunal’ does not seem to be congruent with the Polish ‘Trybunał’, although Polish institutions use these terms as equivalents on their official websites (cf. Trybunał is a court of higher instance than the Supreme Court (Sąd Najwyższy) (Jopek-Bosiacka 2006:220), whereas English tribunals are the lowest courts in the hierarchy of the justice system (see: Table 2 below). This terminological incongruity shows how important the knowledge of the courts hierarchy is, especially in the translation of court names.
[2] Source: the Polish Parliament’s web page:
[3] Based on Table 7.5A and 7.5B in Jopek-Bosiacka (2006:220-221)