“Whereas” in French legal texts

In recent translation assignments, I noticed that French legal texts used a variety of phrases for “whereas”: alors que, considérant que, attendu que… A quick search also pulled up the longer phrases “il est préalablement exposé que” and il a été convenu ce qui suit”.

Often, the French writers varied use of these phrases to group together related facts and conclusions, a rather elegant way to help the reader get through an otherwise complicated and wordy document. An English translation thus loses something by eliminating the French distinction and applying “whereas” globally.

Condemned and praised, but most of all used, ‘whereas’ is one of the most persistently typical and most consistently vague words in the language of the law. It has as many meanings as you have patience, some of them poles apart. One moment ‘whereas’ means the fact is, and the next moment it reverses course to mean in spite of the fact (although).
—David Mellinkoff, The Language of the Law (source)

Gertrude Block writes, ” ‘Whereas’ introduces either a recital of items in a legal document or a statement of fact in opposition to the idea stated in the principal clause.” Such contradiction “surely invites litigation.” I don’t want a translation of mine to cause problems! So how can this linguistic issue be resolved?

Monolingual legal writing resources suggest avoiding the phrase whenever possible. If “whereas” is meant to introduce a recital, simply use a section header labeled “Recitals” or a declaratory sentence to preface your list of facts. Then you can drop the “whereas” that begins each statement. If the French phrase introduces a contradiction or opposing facts, then “whereas” is absolutely acceptable.

I suggest translators take into consideration the date the document was published (and, of course, your particular client’s preferences): if you are translating a recent draft, use the more modern format and plainer language. Avoid “whereas.” If you are translating an older document, traditional jargon is likely more appropriate.

What words or phrases do you use? Are you a fan of plain language, or do you prefer traditional legal terminology?


One thought on ““Whereas” in French legal texts

  1. Pingback: Legal language basics: Plaintiff, petitioner, or . . . ? | translation, untangled

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