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How should we handle the names of foreign government agencies in case stylings?

The recent decision of the Court of Appeal (per Sir Julian Flaux C), in Skatteforvaltningen (the Danish Customs and Tax Administration) v Solo Capital Partners LLP,1 is momentous and of great interest to those (your correspondent very much included) who follow private international law. However, this brief post is concerned instead with the question of nomenclature: how should we handle the names of foreign government agencies in cases?

In this case, and in its consideration at first instance,2 the styling elected for is the unwieldy use of the long Danish compound word for that Kingdom’s tax authority followed by the parenthetical English gloss of its name. This has resulted in a rather long title for the case, and is the result of an approach distinct to that taken in Assange v Swedish Prosecution Authority.3 Although there are various ways that case has been styled,4 the canonical depiction in the Appeal Cases is just the English translation of ‘Ă…klagarmyndigheten’, which is the proper Swedish title of the agency in question, without any parentheticals.

In the body of a case, this is easy: include both the original name and the translation in all cases, since the translation and original name both convey unique information. However, in case titles, concision and memorability is best. The EU approach of simply using the original names without explanation in the short names of cases (think of, say, Case 106/77 Amministrazione delle Finanze dello Stato v Simmenthal SpA) is especially unsatisfactory, not least because it does not indicate from which country the reference is!5 It is notable, however, that this applies merely to the ‘official’ short names; in the English edition of European Court Reports,6 the explanation ‘Italian Finance Administration’ is appended. Strangely, in the French edition of the Reports, 7 the financial administration is simply given in fully translated name,8 without any added reference to the country of origin.

Your correspondent’s proposed solution requires us first to recall that a case has two proper names. First, there is the ‘full name’ which is listed at the beginning of a judgment, which will contain all the parties, with their full names and titles, in a comprehensive listing. This, however, is distinct to the ‘citation name’, which is used erga omnes by both academics and practitioners when referring to the authority. The utility of this division is obvious; the length of criminal law textbooks would notably increase if every case had to state the defendant’s full name, while mistaken identity and thus defamation suits would proliferate if criminal judgments did not give the full name of the defendant!

For the full name, the Court should, of course, ensure that proper comity is shown to the institutions of other sovereign States, but also seek stylistic consistency. These two considerations both inveigh towards using translated names followed by, in parentheses (usually after a line-break), the full name of the State. This is because an Anglophone reader of an English judgment will most readily accord the dignity and respect towards institutions of State if she is able to comprehend the name in question. For institutions of other Anglophone countries, this is obviously quite easy; no translation is needed for ‘Internal Revenue Service’. For the average Anglophone reader—even going by the erudite standards of the sophisticated and cultured readers of law reports—the term Skatteforvaltningen inspires at best confusion. Comity would thus require some form of translation, but stylistic consistency bridles at having some States begin with English titles and others start with strange, likely (excepting those readers who have studied or are native speakers of the language in question). Further, if we retained the ‘foreign name first’ approach, we would find great difficulties in maintain consistency with regards to those languages which are not written in Latin characters. For example, there are many transliteration schemes for Arabic and for various languages which use Cyrillic characters, and any transliteration scheme is just as likely to confuse some readers as to educate.

The full name for the sovereign state should, again, also be given in English; giving the full name of the People’s Republic of China in written simplified Chinese characters will, for most readers, inspire only confusion. In the present case, ‘Kongeriget Danmark’ is at least immediately comprehensible to English speakers, but still unnecessarily confusing and inconsistent. The correct full styling would thus be (for the first party): Customs and Tax Administration (Kingdom of Denmark).

This long name, however, is obviously not suitable for use anywhere other than the nice centred block of text atop a judgment. The short name in any case should be the simplified name of the agency or State body in question, followed by, in parentheses, the name of the State in question. The latter parenthetical may be omitted in cases where the name of the State is an integral part of the name of the agency in question. So, for example, use ‘Internal Revenue Service (USA)’ and ‘Canada Revenue Agency’ respectively in short titles. This model avoids the potential ambiguity caused by the demonym styling used in Assange (supra); a private company might well start with Swedish or French (there are several that immediately come to mind, but which your correspondent feels disinclined to give free advertising). Thus, Assange would be completed by Prosecuting Authority (Sweden) and the present case would start with Customs & Tax Admin. (Denmark). In theory, one could abbreviate even more using ISO codes—eg, DK for the present case—in the parenthetical. However, regrettably, your correspondent suspects that many people are much less familiar with the various two-and-three letter schema for abbreviating country names, and that outside specialised contexts, this is liable to cause confusion.

Finally, we close with a reminder of the imperative rule given supra: In the body of the submission or judgment, always, always, always give the full original name (and where not in Latin characters, a transliteration according to a standard methodology to accompany the name) of the foreign agency in question. For scholars and practitioners alike, this is absolutely crucial information for working in a multilingual context, and conveys valuable information which may be lost in translation, especially because many foreign States use English names which are not direct translations of an agency’s name in that State’s language(s). The discussion here is merely on the title of a case in formal or citatory circumstances, and should not be extended beyond its remit.

  1. [2022] EWCA Civ 234↩︎

  2.  [2021] 1 WLR 4237↩︎

  3. [2012] 2 AC 471↩︎

  4. The Westlaw database appears to be under the mistaken impression the case is called Assange v Sweden.↩︎

  5. For those member states whose language is sufficiently unique, this may be unnecessary, but given that French, Dutch, German, Swedish, English, etc enjoy some form of official status in multiple Member States, language alone is not a sufficient cue.↩︎

  6. [1978] ECR 629, 630 (EN edn)↩︎

  7. ibid (FR edn)↩︎

  8. Administration des finances de l'État↩︎