(English) Brief summary of the organisation of Justice in Spain

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). Operation of the Spanish judiciary is regulated by 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, which rewrote the Law of Labour Procedure, and Organic Law 2/1989 that regulates Military Criminal Procedure.

The organisation of the judicial system in Spain is governed by the principle of unity of jurisdiction. All judges and magistrates are part of the same career structure.

However, the judicial system is divided into different categories (órdenes jurisdiccionales) by subject matter.

These are:

  • Civil jurisdiction, which also includes commercial and family matters;
  • Criminal jurisdiction;
  • Administrative jurisdiction, which includes disputes involving the public administration;
  • Employment, labour or social jurisdiction, which covers labour and social security disputes.
  • Military jurisdiction.

1. Which courts have jurisdiction in civil matters?

The 2000 Code of Civil Procedure (Ley de Enjuiciamiento Civil) defines all the different types of court. For small claims (up to €90) there are magistrate’s courts (Juzgados de Paz), which are presided over by lay judges. The court which launches civil proceedings is the court of first instance (Juzgado de Primera Instancia), presided over by a professional judge or magistrate. Some are specialised, for example in family matters or incapacity. Rulings by these courts can be appealed before the Provincial Court (Audiencia Provincial), a collegiate body presided over by three magistrates. In certain cases a further appeal may be brought before the civil division of the Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo) and, in a very few cases, before the civil and criminal divisions of certain higher courts (Tribunales Superiores de Justicia) in some Autonomous Communities.

2. Which courts have jurisdiction in employment matters?

Employment tribunals (Juzgados de lo Social) are the usual courts of first instance in employment and social security cases. Their rulings cannot be appealed in minor cases, but otherwise extraordinary appeals for reconsideration can be brought before the employment divisions of the higher courts.

These employment divisions are the first-instance jurisdictions for labour disputes whose scope is greater than a Province, but within an Autonomous Community, and their judgments can be appealed.

The employment division of the National Court (Audiencia Nacional) hears labour disputes whose scope is greater than an Autonomous Community.

The employment division of the Supreme Court hears appeals against rulings given by the employment divisions of the National Court and of the higher courts, and «appeals for the unification of doctrine» in respect of rulings given by the higher courts on petitions for reconsideration.

3. Who works for the courts?

Judges and magistrates.

The court clerks (secretarios judiciales), who form a body to which law graduates gain entry by competitive examination, authenticate court documents, assist judges and magistrates in expediting proceedings and manage document service, as well as being responsible for enforcing court orders and for the direct management of court staff.

Officials, auxiliaries and agents are career civil servants who work for the courts. Officials are responsible for the paperwork in court cases while auxiliaries have a support function in the same area. Agents maintain order at hearings, carry out seizure or attachment orders, evictions and other acts which require enforcement, serve court documents and act as judicial police with the authority of officers of the law.

4. Is the Public Prosecutor involved in civil lawsuits?

Yes, in family and divorce cases, where minors or legally incompetent persons are involved, insolvency cases, and cases affecting fundamental rights.

5. What type of civil proceedings exist?

Oral, ordinary, enforcement proceedings, insolvency proceedings, special proceedings: competence, filiation, marriage and minors, legal division of assets, financial and foreign exchange.

6. How are civil proceedings conducted?

The proceedings always begin with a written statement of complaint. Thereafter, in juicios verbales (oral procedure for claims of not more than €3 006 and special proceedings on leases or summary proceedings), all the subsequent stages of allegation, decisions on matters of form, presentation and examination of evidence, and the conclusions of the parties are conducted orally at a public hearing.

Under the ordinary procedure (juicio ordinario), the response to the complaint is in writing. Thereafter the proceedings are conducted orally; there is a preliminary hearing at which procedural issues are resolved, evidence is presented and ruled admissible and a date set for the court hearing. At the hearing the evidence admitted is examined and the parties present their conclusions.

7. Can court judgments in civil lawsuits always be appealed?

The general rule is that there is a single right of appeal, although in some cases there may be a further appeal to the Supreme Court or an extraordinary appeal may be brought for breach of procedure. In a few cases such appeals may be brought before the civil and criminal divisions of certain higher courts in some Autonomous Communities.

8. What is an appeal to the Constitutional Court for protection of fundamental rights?

Recurso de amparo is an appeal for protection of fundamental rights which may have been infringed by a court decision.

9. What are the main legal professions in Spain?

The following professions practise in the area of prevention of disputes:

  • Lawyers (abogados), who provide legal advice.
  • Notaries, who provide documentation, attestation and advisory services.
  • Property and commercial registrars, who keep public registers recording important legal acts that may affect third parties, check that documents entered in the register conform to legal requirements and advise persons wishing to make entries in the register.

The following professionals practise in the area of settlement of disputes:

  • Lawyers, who direct the parties to litigation and settle disputes through the alternative systems in place.
  • Court lawyers (procuradores), who represent the parties in court.
  • Court clerks (Secretarios Judiciales), who are responsible for documentation and for expediting legal proceedings.
  • Judges (Jueces and Magistradosmagistrados are judges sitting in higher courts), who rule on disputes.

(Source: http://ec.europa.eu; wikipedia)


This is the first of a series of small summaries about the judicial organisation in Spain. It is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  It is not an offer to represent you, nor is it intended to create an attorney client relationship.  Online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.  Non-professionals should seek the assistance of a licensed attorney in their jurisdictions, and professionals should consult the primary source materials such as statutes and case laws directly.