Even if you haven’t studied Latin, you probably use words that come from that language in your everyday life. You probably aren’t even aware of doing this because it is something you have internalised, but yes, Latin terms are part of your vocabulary. One of the most commonly requested translation services is legal translations. However, it is worth asking ourselves the following question: are Latin legal phrases really used correctly?
I am sure that you will have often wanted to say that something is “a matter of fact and not of law”. De facto is the Latin phrases used precisely for that. It is used to refer to that something that exists in reality but that does not conform to an existing rule. It is also used to refer to certain governments; when a government is referred to as “de facto” it means that it has been established in violation of a country’s constitution, something that happens in coups, for example.
Although less frequently used, we also have the expression “de jure”. In this case, the translation is “by law”. In contrast to “de facto”, “de jure” is used to say that something has legal backing, that is, it has been established in compliance with a constitutional system. If you use this phrase with this meaning you will be using it correctly.
In dubio pro and In dubio contra
Two more Latin phrases that are often misused are “in dubio pro” and “in dubio contra”. These are the most widely used Latin phrases. Did you know that there are different variations of these expressions? You have probably heard of some of them. We have “in dubio pro reo” (when in doubt, for the accused), “in dubio pro operario” (when in doubt, for the worker), “in dubio pro cive” (when in doubt, for the citizen), “in dubio pro debitore” (when in doubt, for the debtor), “in dubio pro contributor” (when in doubt, for the taxpayer) and so on.
You might also have seen the expression “in dubio contra”, as in “in dubio contra fiscum” (when in doubt, against the tax authority)and “in dubio contra proferentem” (when in doubt, against the offeror). In many cases, the differences between the different phrases are tiny, but it is helpful to understand what each of them means so that you can avoid mistakes. And if, in addition, you have a good grasp of Latin, all the better to use them in the right context.