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Brazilian law derives from Portuguese civil law and is based on statutes and, partly and more recently, súmula vinculante (stare decisis). According to the judiciary structure framed in the Brazilian Constitution, judicial power is divided between the State judicial branch and the Federal judicial branch, each having a different jurisdiction. State-level courts make decisions on all criminal and civil cases, with State-level Courts of Justice acting as courts of appeal. A Supreme Court called Supremo Tribunal Federal makes final, binding decisions in legal cases and on interpretations of the Constitution.


Constitution and law

Brazilian law is largely derived from Portuguese civil law and is related to the Roman-Germanic legal tradition. This means that the legal system is based on statutes, although a recent constitutional reform (Amendment to the Constitution 45, passed in 2004) has introduced a mechanism similar to the stare decisis, called Súmula Vinculante. Nevertheless, according to article 103-A of the Brazilian Constitution, only the Supreme Court is allowed to edit binding rules. Inferior judges and courts, and the public administration, are hence obliged to obey the interpretations of the Supreme Court.

In more recent times, according to the Judiciary Structure framed in the Brazilian Constitution, judicial power is divided between the State judicial branch and the Federal judicial branch, and they have different jurisdictions. The prerogatives and duties of judges are the same, the differences being only in the competences, structure and composition of the Courts.

State-level judiciary

Court of Justice in Recife.

Trial courts

Each state territory is divided into judicial districts named comarcas, which are composed of one or more municipalities. The 26 Courts of Justice have their headquarters in the capital of each State and have jurisdiction only over their State territories. The Federal District only presents the federal-level judicial branch. Each comarca has at least one trial court, a court of first instance. Each court of first instance has a law judge and a substitute judge. The judge decides alone in all civil cases and in most criminal cases. Only intentional crimes against life are judged by jury. The judges of the courts are nominated after a selection process. There are specialized courts of first instance for family litigation or bankruptcy in some comarcas. Judgments from these district courts can be the subject of judicial review following appeals to the courts of second instance.

Justice tribunals

The highest court of a state judicial system is its court of second instance, the Courts of Justice. In each Brazilian State there is one Court of Justice (Tribunal de Justiça in Portuguese). Some states, as São Paulo and Minas Gerais, used to have Courts of Appeals (Tribunal de Alçada in Portuguese) too, but with different jurisdictions. Courts of Justice are courts of appeal, meaning they can review any decisions taken by the trial courts, and have the final word on decisions at state level — though their decisions may be overturned by the federal courts.

Second instance judgments are usually made by three judges, called desembargadores. These Courts are divided into civil chambers, which judge civil cases, and criminal chambers. Judges of the Courts of Justice overview one another. A Court can expel any judge who has displayed unethical behavior.

Federal-level judicial branch

Supreme Federal Court of the country.

Regional Federal Courts (in number of 5) have jurisdiction over circuits of several states and tend to be headquartered in the largest city of their territory. The regional courts are:

Superior courts

Superior Court of Justice in Brasília, the capital of Brazil.

There are two national superior courts making up the Supreme Court, which grant writs of certiorari in civil and criminal cases: the Superior Court of Justice ("Superior Tribunal de Justiça" in Portuguese, shorthand STJ) and the Supreme Federal Court ("Supremo Tribunal Federal" in Portuguese, shorthand STF), the highest Brazilian court (decides issues concerning offences to the Brazilian Constitution).

The "Superior Tribunal de Justiça (STJ)" is the Brazilian highest court in non-constitutional issues and grants a Special Appeal (Recurso Especial in Portuguese) when a judgement of a court of second instance offends a federal statute disposition or when two or more second instance courts make different rulings on the same federal statute. There are parallel courts for labor law, electoral law and military law.

The STF grants Extraordinary Appeals (Recurso Extraordinário in Portuguese) when judgements of second instance courts violate the constitution. The STF is the last instance for the writ of habeas corpus and for reviews of judgments from the STJ.

The superior courts do not analyze any factual questions in their judgments, but only the application of the law and the constitution. Facts and evidences are judged by the courts of second instance, except in specific cases such as writs of habeas corpus.

See also

External links


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