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querella vs. denuncia

English translation: (private) suit vs. criminal complaint


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22:54 Feb 19, 2007
Spanish to English translations [PRO]
Law/Patents - Government / Politics
Spanish term or phrase: querella vs. denuncia
Is this two different things or would complaint work for both? The situation is that several of these (querellas y denuncias) were lodged and the majority were dismissed.

Thanks in advance!
Sherry Godfrey
Local time: 16:19
English translation:(private) suit vs. criminal complaint
Alcaraz Varó explains that there is no accurate way to translate "querella" into English since it is a category that isn't used in our systems. It is similar to a suit in that it is privately instigated, but it can have criminal consequences.

Note added at 2 hrs (2007-02-20 01:53:36 GMT)

fwiw, in my understanding, a "criminal complaint" = "report of an offense" ...
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Patricia Rosas
United States
Local time: 07:19
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4 KudoZ points were awarded for this answer


Summary of answers provided
5 +2(private) suit vs. criminal complaint
Patricia Rosas
5 +1complaint
4 +2denuncia = report of an offense; querella = criminal action, action at lawManuel Cedeño Berrueta
5 +1crime report (or) criminal complaint made to police vs. private criminal prosecutionRebecca Jowers
4querella = lawsuit/ denuncia = (to file or to report) complaint or claim
Cecilia Della Croce
3suit vs filing a suitxxxLia Fail



1 hr   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +2
denuncia = report of an offense; querella = criminal action, action at law

No, they are quite different things.
I copy below some definitions that make it clear, I believe.

Best luck.

Acción penal que ejercita, contra el supuesto autor de un delito, la persona que se considera ofendida o damnificada por el mismo (o sus representantes legales), mostrándose parte acusadora en el procedimiento, a efectos de intervenir en la investigación y obtener la condena del culpable, así como la reparación de los daños morales o materiales que el delito le hubiere causado.

(Ossorio, Manuel: Diccionario de Ciencias Jurídicas, Políticas y Sociales, 30ª Edición, Editorial Heliasta, ISBN 950-885-055-8)
4. a civil or criminal judicial proceeding. — Also termed action at law.

“An action has been defined to be an ordinary proceeding in a court of justice, by which one party prosecutes another party for the enforcement or protection of a right, the redress or prevention of a wrong, or the punishment of a public offense. (…)” Morris M. Estee, Estee’s Pleadings, Practice, and Forms. 3d. ed. 1885).

“The terms ‘action’ and ‘suit’ are nearly if not quite synonymous. But lawyers usually speak of proceedings in courts of law as ‘actions’, and those in courts of equity as ‘suits’ (…) Edwin E. Bryan, The Law of Pleading under the Codes of Civil Procedure (2d ed. 1899)

“‘Action’ in the sense of judicial proceeding, includes recoupment, counterclaim, set-off, suit in equity, and any other proceeding in which rights are determined”. UCC § 1-201(B)(1).

(Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th Edition, ISBN 0-314-15199-0)

Acto de poner en conocimiento del funcionario competente (juez, ministerio público agentes policiales) la comisión de un hecho delictuoso, sujeto a acción pública, del que se hubiere tenido conocimiento por cualquier medio. Puede denunciar toda persoa capaz según la ley civil.

(Ossorio, Manuel: Diccionario de Ciencias Jurídicas, Políticas y Sociales, 30ª Edición, Editorial Heliasta, ISBN 950-885-055-8)

(a) Defining "Report of the Offense" Under Utah Code section 76-1-303(c)

¶42 When we assert our responsibility to interpret a statute, we begin by determining whether its meaning may be derived from the ordinary and generally accepted meaning of the statutory language. State v. Hodges, 2002 UT 117, ¶ 6, 63 P.3d 66. The meaning of the phrase "report of the offense" can be extracted by applying this method of interpretation. It is a phrase that contains two related elements: a description of a type of communication--a report--and the content of that communication--the offense. Under its most prominent definition, a report is "[a] formal oral or written presentation of facts." Black's Law Dictionary 1303 (7th ed. 1999). This connotation of formality distinguishes a report from, for example, an overheard remark. The word "report" is also strongly suggestive of purposeful communication. Its use in the 1991 amendment underscores this component of the meaning of a report. In its statutory setting, the report is a communication made for the purpose of alerting law enforcement to the existence of criminal conduct.

¶43 The language of the 1991 amendment also requires that the "offense" be reported. While it would be unreasonable to adopt an overly narrow interpretation of an "offense," for instance, one that could be satisfied only through reference to Utah Code sections, the disclosure of mere clues that criminal conduct has occurred is not enough. Just as the requirement of a report implies some degree of formality in its communication, so the requirement that an offense be disclosed implies a degree of articulation of criminal conduct sufficient to permit a law enforcement agency to conclude what was done and who did it without additional investigation or analysis.

¶44 A definition of "report of an offense," which requires a heightened level of specificity, is highlighted when contrasted with Mr. Green's definition, which couples an undemanding content requirement with a heightened responsibility on law enforcement agencies to exercise "reasonable diligence" to piece together the commission of an offense from a communication laden with innocent artifacts of data. Had the legislature intended to impose on law enforcement agencies the obligation to discover that a crime may have been committed by gathering and analyzing the universe of information which they may receive or to which they may have access or be in peril of depriving the State of the opportunity of prosecuting a child rapist, it could have done so with specific language. In fact, as the trial court noted in its ruling, other states have elected to enact statutes which commence the running of the statute of limitations on the discovery of the offense.(3) We agree with the trial court that "discovery" and "report" are not synonymous. The terms identify different actors. The law enforcement agency is the entity which "discovers." It is not the source of the "report," but rather the recipient of it.

Manuel Cedeño Berrueta
Local time: 10:19
Works in field
Native speaker of: Native in SpanishSpanish
PRO pts in category: 16

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Cecilia Della Croce
2 hrs
  -> Thanks, Cecilia!

agree  Patrick Weill
2286 days
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33 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5 peer agreement (net): +2
(private) suit vs. criminal complaint

Alcaraz Varó explains that there is no accurate way to translate "querella" into English since it is a category that isn't used in our systems. It is similar to a suit in that it is privately instigated, but it can have criminal consequences.

Note added at 2 hrs (2007-02-20 01:53:36 GMT)

fwiw, in my understanding, a "criminal complaint" = "report of an offense" ...

Patricia Rosas
United States
Local time: 07:19
Specializes in field
Native speaker of: English
PRO pts in category: 156
Grading comment
Selected automatically based on peer agreement.

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  xxxLia Fail: see my last 'entry': complaint vs accusation (you got there before me, with fewer words!)
5 mins
  -> thanks, Lia! I didn't get to the end of your explanations... (all done with the motos de agua?)

agree  Gacela20
2 days16 hrs
  -> thank you!
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4 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5
querella = lawsuit/ denuncia = (to file or to report) complaint or claim


Cecilia Della Croce
Local time: 11:19
Works in field
Native speaker of: Native in SpanishSpanish
PRO pts in category: 43
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4 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5 peer agreement (net): +1

Both are translated as complaint*, which has two different meanings. 1).'denuncia' "A charge that a person has committed a specific offense, usually made by the aggrieved party and filed with a law enforcement agency"
2). 'querella/queja' - A formal document submitted to the court by the prosecutor alleging that a person has committed an offense and requesting prosecutin be initiated.

* Bennaman, Connoly and Loos "Criminal Justice Terms - Bilingual Dictionary (used in the SF State Legal Interpreter course).

Local time: 07:19
Works in field
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 113

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Lydia De Jorge
1 hr
  -> thanks, Lydia
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9 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5 peer agreement (net): +1
crime report (or) criminal complaint made to police vs. private criminal prosecution

In Spain, a "denuncia" is the report of a crime to the police, prosecutor, judge, etc., and the crime is then investigated and, if found to have merit, prosecuted. But once the "denuncia" is made, it is out of the hands of the informant who reported the crime. In contrast, in a querella, the victim reports the crime and indicates that he intends to enter the action as a party to the criminal proceedings, and his lawyer prosecutes the case together with the public prosecutor/district attorney. For that reason, I believe it is important to underscore in your answer that a "querella" is a "private criminal prosecution".

In other respects, I personally would not use terms such as "complaint" (without the word "criminal"), "suit", "private suit", "lawsuit", "claim" "file a suit", etc. when translating "querella" and "denuncia", since these expressions are typical of CIVIL proceedings, and might prompt a miscue as to whether the matter involves civil or criminal proceedings.

Here are definitions of "denuncia" and "querella" from "Diccionario de Derecho" Editorial Bosch, 1995:

DENUNCIA-Es el acto por el que se da a conocer a la autoridad la realización de un hecho que puede implicar infracción de las leyes penales. El que presencie la comisión de cualquier delito público tiene el deber de ponerlo en conocimiento inmediatamente del juez competente. Sin embargo, este deber no afecta a los impúberes ni a los que no gozaren del pleno uso de su razón. Están asimismo exentos del deber de denunciar: el cónyuge del delincuente; los ascendientes y descendientes consanguíneos o afines del delincuente y sus colaterales consanguíneos o uterinos y afines hasta el segundo grado inclusive; los abogados y los procuradores respecto de las instrucciones o explicaciones que recibieren de sus clientes; los eclesiásticos y ministros de culto respecto de las noticias que se les hubieren revelado en el ejercicio de las funciones de su ministerio.

QUERELLA-Es el acto jurídico procesal con el que se inicia una causa criminal a instancia del que suscribe el escrito de querella (querellante) que, al mismo tiempo, se constituye en parte acusadora en la causa penal que así se inicia. La querella, que se interpondrá siempre ante el Juez de Instrucción competente, se presentará por escrito por medio de procurador con poder bastante y suscrita por letrado. Se extenderá en papel de oficio y su contenido esencial es el siguiente: juez o tribunal ante quien se presente la querella; nombre, apellidos y vecindad del querellante; nombre, apellidos y vecindad del querellado; relación circunstanciada del hecho; expresión de las diligencias que se deberán practicar para la comprobación del hecho; petición de que se admita la querella, se practiquen las diligencias sugeridas, se proceda a la detención y prisión del presunto culpable y se acuerde el embargo de sus bienes en la cantidad necesaria cuando así proceda; la firma del querellante o la de otra persona a su ruego, siempre que el procurador no tuviere poder especial para formular la querella.

Note added at 9 hrs (2007-02-20 08:04:57 GMT)

This article explains the peculiar Spanish system of allowing private individuals to participate as parties to criminal prosecutions, and has much vocabulary that may be of use for your translation:

"Private Interests Seeking Punishment: Prosecution Brought by Private Individuals and Groups in Spain" by Julio Pérez Gil, Universidad de Burgos, in the journal "Law & Policy", Volume 25 Issue 2 ( April 2003), pp. 151-172.

Abstract: This article centers on the study of the Spanish private prosecution system. It is an attempt to highlight both its theoretical potential and its practical dysfunctions. This type of lay participation in criminal matters is often seen as a way to strengthen democracy or to legitimate justice, opinions that the author rejects. Although private prosecution may work as a safety valve against the public prosecutor's inactivity, the introduction of private interests in the penal process may distort its true significance and function. Private prosecution can become a Trojan horse within the system.

Rebecca Jowers
Local time: 16:19
Works in field
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 96

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Manuel Cedeño Berrueta: Hi Rebecca. I have understood the same as you, but —of course!— you state it better in English.
1 day15 hrs
  -> Thanks Manuel. I think the key here is to underscore tha the "querella" initiates the private prosecution of an offense
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11 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 3/5Answerer confidence 3/5
suit vs filing a suit

I would say that a QUERELLA is actually a SUIT/CLAIM, whereas a DENUNCIA is FILING A SUIT/CLAIM, in other words, once the DENUCIA has been 'admitted' then it becomes a QUERELLA.

I will do a bit of WWWing on this, but that's my gut feeling:-)

Note added at 30 mins (2007-02-19 23:24:52 GMT)

In fact, there is a difference, although I'm not sure how it could be expressed in English:

***La denuncia, por lo general, es un deber***, mientras que ***la querella es un derecho***, generalmente.

* a) La denuncia es una obligación que, por regla general, impone el Estado para obtener la cooperación ciudadana en la lucha contra el delito.

* b) La querella, en cambio, constituye, por regla general, un derecho: todos los ciudadanos españoles, hayan sido o no ofendidos por el delito, pueden querellarse cuando se trate de un delito público, utilizando la acción popular; y también pueden querellarse los extranjeros por los delitos cometidos contra sus personas o bienes, o las personas o bienes de sus representados.

What it comes down to is a criminal suit and a private suit, i.e, in a QUERELLA, you personally appear as the plaintiff, whereas in a denuncia, you don't appear personally. You denounce a crime, and from there, the State takes over.


La querella
Es la declaración que una persona efectúa por escrito para poner en conocimiento del Juez unos hechos que cree que presentan las características de delito. Con ella el querellante solicita la apertura de una causa criminal en la que se investigará la comisión del presunto delito, y se constituirá como parte acusadora en el mismo.
Puede interponer una querella cualquier ciudadano español independientemente de que haya sido o no ofendido por el delito; sin embargo, los extranjeros sólo podrán querellarse en el primero de los casos, esto es, si son directamente ofendidos por el delito que declaran.
La persona que realiza la declaración (o querellante) ha de manifestar en la querella su intención de intervenir en el procedimiento judicial como parte acusadora, pudiendo apartarse del mismo en cualquier momento, sin perjuicio de que pueda exigírsele la responsabilidad civil y / o penal que en su caso proceda.
El Juez o Tribunal decidirá si admite o no a trámite la querella interpuesta.
Contra la resolución (auto) que dicte desestimándola podrá presentarse el llamado recurso de apelación.
Por su parte, en la querella se podrán denunciar tanto delitos públicos como privados.
Los delitos públicos son aquellos que se persiguen 'de oficio', esto es, por las propias autoridades. Sin embargo, para el seguimiento de los delitos privados (por ejemplo, las injurias y calumnias... etc. ) será necesario que el afectado por los mismos formule una querella en la que manifieste su voluntad de ser parte acusadora en el procedimiento penal.
La denuncia
La denuncia es la declaración que efectúa una persona para poner en conocimiento del Juez, Ministerio Fiscal o la policía, unos hechos que se considera que pueden constituir un delito.
A diferencia de la querella, el denunciante no interviene personalmente como parte acusadora en el desarrollo del proceso penal.
Los delitos objeto de denuncia pueden ser públicos, perseguibles de oficio por las autoridades, o privados, señalando que éstos sólo podrán ser perseguidos si la denuncia es presentada por los sujetos determinados por la ley.
En caso de que la denuncia se interponga por unos hechos que resulten ser falsos, el denunciante podrá incurrir en responsabilidad tanto civil como penal.


A civil law suit is a private suit between two or more entities (can involve individual persons, business or government entities) that generally involve infringement upon the rights and protections of individuals. Civil offenses (torts or breaches of contract) can vary greatly and include offenses ranging from a breach of contract or warranty, the unlawful taking of property, invasions of privacy, negligence, intentional and unintentional infliction of physical injury or emotional distress (personal injury) to severe rights violations such as gross negligence, medical malpractice and wrongful death.

One of the major differences between civil law and criminal law is that civil law suits are initiated by the victim rather than the Federal or state government through a prosecutor. Civil law and criminal law proceedings are also very different, and one of the main differences lies in the "burden of proof." In a criminal case, the defendant must be proven guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt." A civil case only has to be proven on the "balance of probabilities" (i.e., it is "likely" that the defendant is guilty). A good example of this is the O.J. Simpson trial. While it was not proven "beyond a reasonable doubt" that he murdered his wife; it was proven in the subsequent civil trial that, based on the "balance of probabilities," he had been responsible for her death, which subsequently led to the financial award to the victim's family.

In civil law, a private party (e.g., a corporation or individual person) files the lawsuit and becomes the plaintiff. In criminal law, the litigation is always filed by the government, who is called the prosecution.
One of the most fundamental distinctions between civil and criminal law is in the notion of punishment.
criminal law
In criminal law, a guilty defendant is punished by either (1) incarceration in a jail or prison, (2) fine paid to the government, or, in exceptional cases, (3) execution of the defendant: the death penalty. Crimes are divided into two broad classes: felonies have a maximum possible sentence of more than one year incarceration, misdemeanors have a maximum possible sentence of less than one year incarceration.
civil law
In contrast, a defendant in civil litigation is never incarcerated and never executed. In general, a losing defendant in civil litigation only reimburses the plaintiff for losses caused by the defendant's behavior.

Note added at 35 mins (2007-02-19 23:29:53 GMT)

See this site, which translates DENUNCIA as a 'report', which it is, but just to teh police. http://www.spainlawyer.com/guialegal/guialegal.cfm?IDCAPITUL...

Note added at 37 mins (2007-02-19 23:31:52 GMT)


International Criminal Court document:

Article 217.
A judge (juez) or senior judge (magistrado) to whom any of the legally established grounds apply shall
refrain from exercising cognizance over a matter without waiting to be challenged.
Article 218.
Only the following may make challenges:
1. In the case of civil, social and contentious administrative matters, the parties; the Public
Prosecutor’s Office may also do so, provided that it is an action which, given the nature of the rights
in dispute, it may or must take part in.
2. In the case of criminal matters, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, public, individual or private
prosecutors, plaintiffs claiming damages (actor civil), the defendants or accused, people who are the
object of a ************complaint (querellado) or accusation (denunciado)***********, and third parties with civil liability.

Note added at 10 hrs (2007-02-20 09:08:59 GMT)


Forgot to give you link for the International Criminal Court.

You have a lot of info to process, but to be perfectly honest, I would go for the ICC translation, as if anyone ever questioned you re your choice, well, if it was acceptable to teh ICC, why not to you:-)

xxxLia Fail
Local time: 16:19
Works in field
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 36
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