70 Lex ET Scientia. Juridical Series
LESIJ NO. XIX, VOL. 1/2012
The administration of justice is divided into four branches5: civil (within the civil branch there
are commercial courts and family courts), criminal, labour, and administrative courts, and within
each jurisdiction they are organised hierarchically. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial body in
all branches of justice except the provisions concerning constitutional rights and guarantees (Art.
123.1 SC). This division allows the judges to develop over the years en expertise in legal specialities,
which benefits the accuracy in adjudicating, particularly in complex cases, as well as the efficiency
of the administration of justice.
Spanish territory is divided for judicial purposes into (Arts. 30 et. seq. LOPJ):
– Municipalities (municipios)
– Judicial Districts (partidos judiciales)
– Provinces (provincias)
– Autonomous Communities (Comunidades Autonomas)
This division is almost equivalent to the administrative division of the territory and it
corresponds to the administrative demarcations with the same name, except the judicial districts
which are a purely judicial territorial division (Art. 32 LOPJ). The judges only have jurisdiction
within the territorial boundaries of their district. Every act that needs to be done outside their
territorial jurisdiction will need the judicial cooperation of the competent judge.
The Constitutional Court, envisaged in Section IX of the Spanish Constitution of 1978, is the
supreme interpreter of the Constitution.
The various levels of courts within each of the jurisdictional branches are empowered to hear
cases depending on subject-matter rules or on the amount of the claim or seriousness of the penalty.
Within the Criminal jurisdiction there are following courts:
1) Justice of Peace (Juzgados de Paz) have jurisdiction in the Municipalities, but only in those
where there is no Investigating Judge. They are appointed for a term of four years by the city council
assembly and they are not professional judges. As to their status and functions, as criminal courts
they decide only over a limited number of petty offences or misdemeanours (Arts. 99 et.seq. LOPJ
and art. 14 CCP). Their subject-matter jurisdiction is very limited.
2) Investigating Judge (Juzgados Instruccion). They are made up of one judge, who deals
with civil as with criminal matters. In the criminal field, the judge acts as an Investigating Judge but
is also competent to deal with the habeas corpus and with minor offences procedures (Art. 87 LOPJ).
They also act as trial courts in cases of petty offences.
3) Criminal Courts (Juzgado de lo Penal), are trial courts with jurisdiction in the territory of
the province. They are competent to deal in the first instance with cases where the imprisonment
penalty is lower than 5 years (Art. 14.3 LECrim).
4) Provincial Courts (Audiencia Provincial), whose Criminal Sections – made of three judges
– deal as a first instance court with cases sanctioned with a penalty higher than five years
imprisonment; in addition they act as appellate courts in respect of the sentences of the Criminal
Courts within the province (Art. 80 et.seq. LOPJ). The jury trial takes place within the provincial
courts; a magistrate of this court will preside over the jury trial.
5) Higher Regional Courts (Tribunal Superior de Justicia). Each Autonomous Community
has a High Court of Justice, which is the top of the judicial organisation of each region, without
prejudice of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. The High Court of Justice deals as a first instance
court with criminal cases in which the accused is a judge, magistrate or a public prosecutor. They
also decide the appellate review of the decisions rendered by the Provincial Courts (Art. 73 LOPJ). It
also has competence to decide the appeals filed against the judgment rendered in the jury trial (Art.
846 bis a) LECrim).
5 On the judicial organization see L.BACHMAIER and A. DEL MORAL, op.cit., pp. 197 ff.