Spanish Courts and Arbitrars

1. Overview

The Spanish Court system is governed by the General Council of the Judiciary (Consejo General del Poder Judicial), conceived in the 1978 Spain Constitution, it is independent from the legislative and executive branches of Government.

For the purposes of the administration of justice, the State distributes the courts on a regional basis: in town districts, Provinces and Autonomous Communities.

The Spanish Court system is hierarchical, the scheme of the Spanish courts below shows the different levels in which the Courts are structured from the highest to the lowest level. This scheme neither include the Constitutional Court (which is at the same level than the Supreme Court) nor the Military Jurisdiction, which has its own courts also structured in different levels.

Typically the legal action begins in the Court of First Instance; appeals and counter-appeals go to higher courts.

Civil Chamber- Criminal Chamber – Administrative ChamberLabour Chamber – Military Chamber
Criminal Chamber – Labour Chamber – Administrative Chamber
Civil & Criminal Chamber – Administrative Chamber – Labour Chamber
Civil & Criminal Section
Central Instruction Court – Central Criminal Court
Administrative Central Court – Minors Central Court
Courts of: First Instance – Instruction – Minors – Prison Vigilanceand Administrative
Justice of the Peace

2. The Spanish Courts

2.1. The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo) is the highest level of justice in the Spanish system. It is based in Madrid and  its jurisdiction extends throughout the Spanish territory and over all judicial matters.

It is divided into five Chambers (Civil, Criminal, Social, Militar and Administrative) and hears appeals for the annulment, or revision, of sentences handed down by the National or Regional High Courts. It also tries civil or criminal cases against the President of the Government, Ministers, Members of Parliament etc.

2.2. National Court

The National Court (Audiencia Nacional) has its seat in Madrid, with jurisdiction over the whole Spanish territory, with the following chambers:

  • The Criminal Chamber tries those cases involving crimes committed against the Royal Family, high Government officials, major drug trafficking, counterfeiting and offences committed outside the Spanish Territory which are prosecuted in Spain. It also decides on requests for Extradition and European Arrest Warrants and hears appeals against the sentences determined by the Central Criminal Courts, the Central Instruction Courts and the Central Minors’ Court.
  • The Administrative Chamber hears the appeals against the decisions adopted by the Ministers and the Secretaries of the Spanish State.
  • The Social Chamber tries the special process for contesting collective bargaining agreements applicable to a territory, which is bigger than an Autonomous Community, it also tries those processes about collective labour conflicts.

Within the National Court, the Central Examining Courts (Juzgados Centrales de Instrucción) investigate and prepare cases to be tried either in the Central Criminal Court or the National Court. The Central Criminal Courts (Juzgados Centrales de lo Penal) hear only those cases involving crimes which punishments do not exceed 5 years imprisonment.

2.3. Regional High Courts

The Regional High Court (Tribunal Superior de Justicia de las Comunidades Autónomas) is the highest level of Justice within each Autonomous Community of Spain. It is divided into 4 Chambers: Civil, Criminal, Administrative and Labour.

2.4. Provincial Court

The Provincial Court (Audiencia Provincial) tries civil and criminal cases. Its jurisdiction extends throughout the Province and is located in its capital.

This Court tries those crimes which prescribed sentence could exceed 5 years imprisonment.

These also hear appeals against sentences and decisions determined by the lower Courts: Instruction Court, Criminal Courts of the Province, Courts of First Instance, Courts of Prison Vigilance and from the Minors Court of the province.

2.5. Minors’ Courts,the Courts of Prison Vigilance, Labour Courts, the Administrative Courts, Criminal Courts
  • The Minor’s Courts (Juzgados de Menores) hear those cases involving minors under the age of 16, its jurisdiction may extend several provinces within an Autonomous Community.
  • The Courts of Prison Vigilance (Juzgados de Vigilancia Penitenciaria) look after the operation of prisons and the legal rights of detainees. They grant parole and any condition attached to it.
  • The Labour Courts (Juzgados de lo Social) hear all labour and work-related cases.
  • The Administrative Courts (Juzgados de lo Contencioso-Administrativo) hear the administrative appeals. These Courts also give permission for the authorities to enter the dwellings as well as to those places where it is required the owner’s consent.
  • The Criminal Courts (Juzgados de lo Penal) try the crimes prepared and investigated by the Court of the 1st Instance, the maximum penalty for the crimes must not exceed 5 years imprisonment.
2.6. First Instance and Examininig Courts
  • The Courts of the First Instance (Juzgados de Primera Instancia) hear civil cases, which are not legally prescribed to be heard by another higher court.These also hear appeals in civil cases against judgements handed down by the Justice of Peace.
  • The Examining Courts (Juzgados de Instrucción):
    • Investigate and prepare criminal cases to be tried in other courts (Provincial Audiences and Criminal Courts).
    • Try misdemeanor’s cases which cannot be tried before the Justice of the Peace.
    • Are in charge of the Habeas Corpus procedure.
    • Hear appeals in criminal cases against judgements handed down by Justice of Peace.

In civil cases, appealing before a Provincial Court does not preclude the possibility of provisional enforcement of judgments delivered in the Court of First Instance.

2.7. Justice of the Peace

The Justice of Peace (Juzgados de Paz) operates in small communities with no First Instance and Instruction Courts. They hear minor civil cases, among their functions, they sometimes work as Civil Registry Body. The Provincial Court appoints the Judges Justice for a period of 4 years.

2.8. The Constitutional Court

The Constitutional Court (Tribunal Constitucional) is at the same level as the Supreme Court though it is an independent court which only considers constitutional matters, cases in which it is alleged violation of constitutional rights and Disputes between the State and Autonomous Communities.

3. Arbitration

3.1. General Information

Arbitration is an out-of-court alternative mechanism of dispute resolution whereby an impartial third party issues a decision, which in Spain is binding on the parties.

When the case is submitted to arbitration, no legal action before Spanish Courts can be taken at the same time.

The procedure governing Arbitration is to be set by the parties. If the parties fail to reach an agreement, the procedure isset by the arbitrators.

In certain cases arbitration is not possible, such us:

  • Those cases on which a definitive resolution has been devolved upon.
  • Those cases where there has been an intoxication, injury, death or there is evidence of a criminal offence.
  • Those cases on which the Public Prosecutor must intervene (e.g. cases involving minors).
  • Cases linked to those on which both parties have no authority.

In Consumption matters, the arbitral procedure is initiated through the arbitration requests presented by a Spanish Consumers Association (Asociación de Consumidores) or directly by the consumer.

The Consumption Arbitration Board (Junta Arbitral de Consumo) and the Arbitral College (Colegio Arbitral) shall intervene in the arbitration procedure.

In Mercantile matters, corporations may use arbitration in Spain to resolve any conflict arising between them instead of taking legal action before the Spanish Courts, in such a case the contracts or agreements reached between both corporations shall include an arbitration clause.

3.2. The Arbitration Award

The arbitration award (laudo arbitral) must be issued in writing within 6 months since the parties agreed to resolve their conflict through Arbitration.

The arbitration award will be binding and its effects will be the same as the items yet judged. It may be directly enforced before the courts.

The award may be determined according to the principles of natural justice or on the basis of an existing regulation.

Annulment appeal (Recurso de Anulación) against the Arbitration Award may be submitted before the Provincial Court and Revision appeal (Recurso de Revisión) can also be submitted according to the same rules as in litigation. The services of a Spanish Lawyer are mandatory to file such appeal.

Our lawyers provide solid legal advice regarding any litigation or arbitration case in Spain:

4. Getting legal help

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