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The Judiciary of Spain is the combination of the Courts and Tribunals, composed of judges and magistrates (Justices) that have the power to administer justice in the name of the King. The Spanish Judiciary is based on its strict independence from any other power, to ensure the rule of law, and therefore judges and magistrates are strictly professional (excluding the justices of the peace).

The Spanish legal system is a civil law system based on comprehensive legal codes and laws rooted in Roman law, as opposed to common law which is based on precedent court rulings. The Spanish judiciary is ruled by the following laws: Organic Law 6/1985 of the Judiciary Power, Law 1/2000 of Civil Judgement, Law of September 14 1882 on Criminal Judgement, Law 29/1998 of Administrative Jurisdiction, Royal Legislative Decree 2/1995 that rewrote the Law of Labour Procedure and the Organic Law 2/1989 that regulates the Military Criminal Procedure.[1]


The Judiciary Career

The Spanish Judiciary is a professional Judiciary, where Judges and Magistrates are public servants, that belong to the Body of Judges and Magistrates, that is divided into three Categories Judge, Magistrate, Supreme Court Magistrate[2]

Access to the Judiciary Career is limited to those of Spanish nationality, that hold a Bachelors Degree in Law issued by a Spanish university and that are not legally unable to belong to the career. In order to enter the judicial career applicants should pass a competitive state exam, State exam with contest of merits, or a contest of merits[3]. If applicants are selected they will enter the Judiciary School where they will receive the necessary courses over a year to become judges, as well as do practical courses as associate judges in courts and tribunals of the different jurisdictional orders. If a candidate passes this course he will be sworn in as a judges[4]. Magistrates of the Supreme Court can be drafted in a contest of merits of prestigious jurists and lawyers with more than fifteen years of professional exercise.[5] One in every five seats of the Supreme Court will be covered this way[6]. Justices of the Peace that do not belong to the judiciary career are neighbours elected by the town council of the city where they will exercise.

Judges and magistrates are banned from being part of political parties and trade unions[7] as well from directing messages of congratulation or censure public powers, or official corporations, nor to attend public meetings or rallies in their condition of members of the judiciary[8].

Constitutional Principles

The Spanish Constitution guarantees the respect of the essential principles necessary for the correct functioning of the Judiciary; these principles are impartiality, independence, immobility, responsibility and legality.

  • Principle of impartiality: In guarantee of the assured effective judicial trusteeship to all of the citizens by the Constitution, judges must remain impartial to the cases that they are allowed to enter into and to judge and must abstain from cases that they have no reason to enter into.
  • Principle of independence: The Courts and Tribunals are independent of all authority or people in the exercise of jurisdictional power.
  • Principle of immobility: The judges and magistrates are immobile and cannot be moved, suspended, separated or retired with cause and with the guarantees that are established by law.
  • Principle of responsibility: The judges and magistrates are personally responsible for the disciplinary infractions and crimes that they commit in the exercise of their office; this responsibility can only be demanded by the established legal disciplinary tract, without interference by the Executive or Legislature, or through ordinary legal proceedings.
  • Principle of legality: In the exercise of their jurisdictional functions, judges and magistrates are subject to the Constitution and to the rest of the laws just the other branches of government and citizens are.


The Government of the Spanish Judiciary is assigned to the General Council of the Judiciary. This Constitutional Body though not a court by itself is responsible for overseeing the work of al the courts and tribunals of Spain, as well as of allotting the Judges and Magistrates to each of them.

Jurisdictional Orders

The Spanish Judiciary structure is divided into five jurisdictional orders, civil jurisdiction, criminal jurisdiction, administrative contentious jurisdictions, labour or social jurisdiction and military jurisdiction.. Each order is composed of several different circuits.

Territorial Organisation

The Spanish Judiciary relays on different levels of territorial organisation, this are: The Judicial District, as the basic unit which covers one or several municipalities and is served by at least one First instance and Inquiry court; the province; the autonomous community; and the whole nation.

Jurisdictional Circuits


Supreme Court

(See Supreme Court of Spain)

Is the maximum judiciary body of Spain, composed of five halls it covers all the jurisdictional orders. Its rulings cannot be appealed, except to the Constitutional Court when one of the parties sees its constitutional guarantees have been infringed.

Audiencia Nacional

(See "Audiencia Nacional")

Is a court, with seat in Madrid, covering all the territory of the nation, it is composed of three halls that cover:

  • The administrative contentious jurisdiction, in the case of appeals against the resolutions of Ministers, secretaries, of state, the Council of Ministers and the Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces.
  • The Social Jurisdiction for cases pertaining collective bargain agreements that cover more than the territory of one autonomous community.

The Audiencia Nacional has also specialized courts on Criminal Inquiry, Penitentiary Surveillance and Juvenile cases attached to its jurisdiction.

Some jurists consider this court to be unnecessary and a successor to the Public Order Court, the political court during the Francoist period [9]

High Courts of Justice

Are courts with authority over one Autonomous Community, and is the maximum jurisdictional body or the autonomous community without prejudice of the Supreme Court[10]. They are Divided into of three halls covering four jurisdictional order:

  • The First Hall, or Civil and Criminal Hall: In the case of civil jurisdiction is responsible of civil cases for acts that where than in their competence by the President of the Autonomous Community, Members of the Government Council or of the Legislature, and in the cases of Communities with their own civil law to know the appeals against rulings of inferior courts. In the Case of the Criminal Jurisdiction, to inquire, and proceed in the cases related to public prosecutors, judges, magistrates, members of the legislature and the government council, that relate their activity to the autonomous community.
  • The Second or Administrative-Contentious Hall: Is responsible to know the appeals against resolutions of State Bodies not assigned to other court, appeals against resolutions of the government of the Autonomous community or its members, appeals against resolutions of the bodies of the Legislature, pertaining its administration, appeals against the Electoral Boards and appeals against rulings of first instance Administrative-Contentious courts.
  • The Third or Social hall: Is responsible for appeals against the rulings of first instance social courts and of cases pertaining collective bargain agreements that affect the territory of one autonomous community.

Audiencia Provincial

The Audiencia Provincial is a court that covers the territory of one province and is responsible for two jurisdictional Orders, Civil and Criminal.

  • Civil Halls: Are responsible for the Appeals against the courts of first instance.
  • Criminal Halls: Are responsible for the judging of severe Criminal Cases.

Unipersonal Courts

Unipersonal courts are those courts that are controlled by one judge contrary to the rest of the superior courts controlled by judge panels. They are also the basic units for the judiciary procedure in Spain.

Courts of First Instance

Are the basic courts of the civil jurisdiction, they are assigned to the judicial districts, and know all cases not corresponding to superior courts, they also act as second instance courts for ruling set by Peace Courts. Judges of first instance are responsible usually for the civil registry.

Courts of Inquiry

Are the courts responsible for the inquiry of all criminal cases in order to be judged by superior courts, they are assigned to a judicial district. In the case of the smaller districts First Instance and Inquiry Courts are usually unified and responsibility of one judge.[11]

Criminal Courts

Are responsible for judging, less serious crimes and misdemeanours, as well as acting as second instance courts for Peace Courts. They are assigned to a province.

Contentious-Administrative Courts

Are responsible for all cases corresponding to appeals for National and Autonomic bodies not assigned by the constitution to other courts as of the appeals to resolutions issued by municipal bodies. They are assigned to a province.

Social Courts

Social courts are the basic courts related to labour law, and are assigned to a province.

Peace Courts

Are assigned to a municipality that is not the head of a judicial district and headed by a Justice of the Peace. Their responsibilities relate to the criminal and civil orders in minor cases.

Juvenile Courts

Are responsible for criminal cases committed by those who are over 14 years old and under 18 years old, they are ruled under the Organic Law 1/2000 “of Criminal Responsibilities of Minors”

Penitentiary Surveillance Courts

Are responsible of overseeing the penitentiary condition of criminals and of establishing their penitentiary degrees or conditional freedom.

The Constitutional Court

The Constitutional Court is usually not considered to be part of the judiciary, but to be an independent power of the state responsible to be the supreme interpreter of the constitution. Despite that, its functioning and work is usually similar to that of the rest of the judiciary.[12]


  1. ^ M. Moreno Catena, Victor (2000). Introducción al Derecho Drocesal. Valentín Cortés Domínguez; Vicente Gimeno Sendra (3rd ed.). Colex, Spain. ISBN 8478795812. OCLC 50563214.  
  2. ^ Art. 298.2 LO 6/1985 Del Poder Judicial(LOPJ)
  3. ^ Art 301 LOPJ
  4. ^ Art 307 LOPJ
  5. ^ art 345 LOPJ
  6. ^ art 343 LOPJ
  7. ^ art 127.1 Spanish Constitution of 1978(CE)
  8. ^ art. 395 LOPJ
  9. ^ Moreno Catena, Victor et al.….
  10. ^ Art 152.1 CE
  11. ^ Moreno Catena, Victor et al.…
  12. ^ Moreno Catena, Victor et al.

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