Academic journal article Defense Counsel Journal

What You Always Wanted and Need to Know about the Legal Environment of Spain

Academic journal article Defense Counsel Journal

What You Always Wanted and Need to Know about the Legal Environment of Spain

Article excerpt

After dictatorship and isolation, since 1975 Spain has been evolving a modern legal system as a part of the new Europe

SPAIN emerged from nearly 40 years of dictatorship in 1975 and has since made a remarkable transformation from a sheltered, agriculture-based society to the firstworld nation with a thriving economy that it is today. Part and parcel of this transformation has been Spain's development of a just and stable legal system. As more global businesses look toward Spain as a promising place for investment, it becomes increasingly important for lawyers, particularly those in North America, to have an understanding of the legal environment within which businesses will operate and commercial and other disputes will be resolved.

This article provides a basic overview of Spain's legal and court structure, a sampling of substantive laws of interest to businesses, a roadmap of procedures that are followed in the various courts (and chambers thereof), and some practical aspects of litigating in Spain.


A. Legal System

Spain's Constitution, ratified on December 27, 1978, establishes a parliamentary monarchy form of government and a regionalized organization of 17 "autonomous communities." Some of the communities--for instance, Cataluna, Galicia and the Basque Country--retain a higher degree of political autonomy than others. Each community is divided into provinces and then into local municipalities.

The Constitution provides for the distribution of authority and power amongst the central government and the autonomous communities. Article 149 grants exclusive authority to the central government with respect to criminal, procedural, mercantile, labor, civil, tax, telecommunications and intellectual property laws, as well as matters concerning international affairs, national defense, organization of the court system, customs, the monetary system and social security.

The autonomous communities may, at their option, assume authority with respect to those matters not controlled by the central government, such as environmental law, agriculture and cultural affairs.

B. Court System

The Spanish court system is divided by both territory (national, autonomous community, provincial and district) and subject matter (civil/mercantile, criminal, administrative and labor/social) jurisdiction.

Within each district of each province are the following courts:

* Courts of First Instance (Juzgados de Primera Instancia), which hear claims concerning civil and mercantile matters;

* Courts of Instruction (Juzgados de Instruccion), which conduct preliminary investigations of criminal matters;

* Criminal Courts (Juzgados Penales), which hear oral trials pertaining to certain previously investigated criminal matters (the remainder of which are forwarded directly to the criminal chamber of the Provincial Courts);

* Contentious Administrative Courts (Juzgados de lo Contencioso Administrativo), which hear claims against the acts of local and autonomous community governmental authorities;

* Social Courts (Juzgados de lo Social), which hear matters concerning labor law, individual and collective disputes between employers and employees and claims to the National Health System.

The number of courts in a particular district varies by population.

Within the capital city of each province sits a Provincial Court (Audiencia Provincial). These courts have jurisdiction over the entire province and are divided into civil and criminal chambers. They hear appeals of judgments issued by the lower courts within the province.

The highest court within each autonomous community is the High Court of Justice (Tribunal Superior de Justicia). Each one is divided into chambers. The civil chamber hears appeals concerning certain special regional and local civil matters. The criminal chamber has only limited authority over criminal matters. …

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