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Ordinary courts - Spain

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Article 117 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978 provides that the principle of judicial unity is the basis for the organisation and functioning of the courts.

This principle is reflected in the existence of a single jurisdiction, composed of a single body of judges and judges who constitute ordinary courts.

There are a large number of courts and courts that are distributed through the competitive allocation criteria: subject, size, person, function or territory, as the jurisdiction unit does not preclude different bodies with different powers.

The Spanish Constitution of 1978 proclaims that Spain is established in a social and democratic state of law that promotes freedom, justice, equality and political pluralism as higher values in its national law. the Constitution is devoted to Title VI of the Judiciary and provides in its Article 117 that the principle of judicial unity is the basis for the organisation and functioning of the courts.

These principles inform the Organisation of Courts in Spain and are reflected in the existence of a single corps of judges and magistrates who are independent, irremovable, responsible and subject only to the Constitution and the rule of law.

The exercise of judicial power, judging and enforcing court, is exclusively a matter for the courts and tribunals determined by the laws and by the international treaties.

Ordinary courts — introduction

There are many courts and tribunals that are distributed through the various criteria for the division of jurisdiction laid down in the Law: subject matter, size, person, function or territory, as the unit of jurisdiction does not object to the existence of different organs with different powers. Courts and tribunals exercise jurisdiction only in cases where they are conferred by law.

The Organic Law on the Judiciary, mandated by Article 122 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978, determines the constitution, operation and governance of the courts.

Three key aspects need to be distinguished:

  • the territorial aspect.
  • the one-man or collegiate nature of the organs.
  • the area of competence.

The territorial aspect

According to the explanatory memorandum to Organic Law 6/1985 of 1 July on the Judiciary, the State is organised territorially, for the purposes of the judiciary, in municipalities, parties, provinces and autonomous communities.

The exercise of judicial power is conferred on the following courts and tribunals: Court of Justice, Courts of Justice, Courts of First Instance and Criminal Investigations, Courts of First Instance, Commercial Appeals, Violence Against Women, the Criminal, Administrative, Administrative, Social, Child and Child Abuse Supervision, Provincial Courts, High Courts of Justice, High Court of Justice, National High Court and Supreme Court.

The National High Court, the Supreme Court, the Central Criminal Courts and the central administrative courts have a judicial power over the whole of the national territory.

The single or collegial nature of organs

As regards the single or collegial nature of bodies, they are all singers except the Supreme Court, the Audiencia Nacional, the High Courts of Justice and the Provincial Courts.

The Supreme Court, based in Madrid, is the highest court in all orders, with the exception of constitutional guarantees. The President, the Presidents of Chambers and Magistrates determining the Law for each of its Chambers and Sections.

The Supreme Court is composed of the following chambers:

First: Civil.

Second: Criminal law.

Third: Administrative proceedings.

Four: Social.

Five: It is governed by its specific legislation and, in addition, by the Organic Law on the Judiciary (LOPJ) and by the Ordinance to the other Chambers of the Tribunal Supremo (Supreme Court).

The Madrid National High Court has jurisdiction throughout Spain. It is composed of its President, the Presidents of Chambers and Magistrates determining the law for each of its Chambers and Sections (of Appeal, Appeal, Criminal, Administrative and Social Affairs).

The High Courts of Justice in each Autonomous Community lead to the judicial organisation within its territorial jurisdiction, without prejudice to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. The High Court takes the name of the Autonomous Community concerned and extends its jurisdiction to the territory of that Autonomous Community.

It is composed of three chambers: civil and Criminal, Administrative and Social Affairs.

It consists of a President, who will also be composed of its Civil and Criminal Chamber; the Presidents of Chambers and Magistrates determining the law for each of its Chambers and, where appropriate, sections that may be created within them.

The Provincialestibulent Audiences in the capital of the province, from which they take their name and extend their jurisdiction, as a general rule, to the whole of that court. They consist of a president and two or more magistrates. They may also be composed of two or more sections of the same composition, in which case the President of the High Court shall preside at one of the sections.

They are aware of the matters laid down in the Law on civil and criminal matters.

The Judicial Office

The Organic Law on the Judiciary defines the Judicial Office as “the instrumental organisation supporting and supporting the judicial activity of judges and courts”.

Its design is designed to improve the efficiency, efficiency of the judicial bodies and the transparency of legal proceedings, to speed up the resolution of procedures and processes, and to encourage cooperation and coordination between the services and units that make up the Judicial Office. Its implementation is therefore responsive to the commitment to an immediate and high quality public service in line with the constitutional values and in line with the current needs of the public.

This is a new organisational model which introduces modern management techniques, based on the combination of different administrative units; Processing units for direct support equivalent to the old courts, which support the judge or magistrate in their judicial function and common procedural services, led by Lawyers of the Judiciary who perform and direct all those functions which are not purely jurisdictional, such as: receipt of written submissions, notifications, enforcement of decisions, procedural non-judicial formalities admissible, transfer to the parties, rectification of procedural defects...

There are three classes of CPIs:

  • General Common Service
  • Common Office for the organisation of the procedure
  • Common Implementing Service

The area of competence

In addition to the territorial component, attention should be drawn to the various matters or matters which may be brought to the attention of courts and tribunals and which determine the existence of four court orders:

Civil: The courts and courts of civil law, in addition to their own matters, are aware of any matters which are not assigned to another judicial order. It can therefore be classed as ordinary or common.

Proceedings: Criminal knowledge of criminal causes and trials, with the exception of those under the military jurisdiction, is a feature of Spanish law, which is characteristic of Spanish law that civil action arising from criminal proceedings may be brought jointly with criminal proceedings. In such a case, the criminal court shall decide on the compensation due for damages caused by the crime.

Administrative actions: The Constitution states that the courts control the regulatory power and legality of administrative action, as well as the fact that it is subject to the purposes for which it is based. The jurisdiction of the court is to review the legality of the actions of all the public authorities, including claims for damages against them, as individuals, under the terms laid down by law, are entitled to compensation for any damage they have suffered in any of their assets and rights, except in cases of force majeure, provided that the damage is the result of the operation of public services.

Social: to hear claims made on the legal branch of the law, whether in individual or collective conflicts, as well as claims for social security or the State when labour law confers liability on it.

In addition to the four court orders, the military courts exist in Spain.

The Military Jurisdiction is an exception to the principle of judicial unity.

The Constitution lays down the principles governing the judicial activity and lays down the principles governing the unity of the judicial power of the State. The organs of the military jurisdiction, forming part of the State judiciary, base their organisation and functioning on the principle of judicial unit and administer justice in the strictly castrated area and, where appropriate, on matters establishing a statement of the state of siege in accordance with the Constitution and the provisions of criminal, procedural and military law.

The competence of the military jurisdiction is limited in time of peace to a purely castrary scope, with knowledge of the conduct classified as an offence under the military criminal code and extending its jurisdiction to any type of offence in the case of troops displaced outside the national territory. For military time, Organic Law 4/1987 on Competition and Military Jurisdiction Organisation provides for a change in this area, although the decision is taken by the Cortes Generales (Parliament) and, in the event that it is authorised, by the Government.

In the civil proceedings, it is for the military jurisdiction to prevent trials for the disposition of persons in the armed forces who, in a war period, die in a season or navigation, and are limited to the assistance necessary to arrange for the funeral of the deceased and the training of the physical inventory and insurance of his assets, giving the competent civil judicial authority an account.

Military courts are composed of military forces, members of the armed forces and subsidiaries of the Ministry of Defence.

All of them integrate the military courts: the Territorial Courts, the Central Criminal Courts, the Territorial Military Courts, and the Central Military Court. However, at the top of the military jurisdiction, the 5th Chamber of the Supreme Court is located.

The Central Military Court based in Madrid and jurisdiction throughout the national territory constitutes a centralised court for knowledge of matters assigned to it by Organic Law 4/1987, of 15 July, on Competition and the Organisation of the Military Jurisdiction.

Military Courts are those responsible for the investigation of military criminal proceedings for acts that occurred in the area within their jurisdiction and whose knowledge corresponds to the respective Military Court and penitentiary judicial surveillance in relation to military correctors and their inmates, among other functions.

The creation of a Military Chamber in the Supreme Court, subject to its regime and the status of its members to the same rules as the other Chambers, constitutes the unity at the apex, of the two jurisdictions which make up the State of Judicialof the State.

The composition of that chamber by magistrates coming from ordinary jurisdiction and from the military is a guarantee of a weighing-up exercise in the higher range of courts, usually called upon to act on appeal and review, even if it is logical that a reserve of jurisdiction should be reserved for those holding certain high positions or military posts, the conduct of which would be subject to review by that chamber.

There is no extraordinary judicial order in Spain, but if we can point out that, within the aforementioned legal orders, specialised courts have been set up on the grounds of the subject. For example, the Courts for Violence Against Women, the prison and juvenile courts. These courts are ordinary courts but have a specialisation on the ground. For more information, see “Spanish courts and courts specialised in Spain”.

Turning to the analysis of the four existing court orders, we will examine the jurisdiction of the courts and tribunals in these areas.


Jurisdiction in civil courts is Chamber I of the Supreme Court, the Civil and Criminal Chamber of the High Courts of Justice, the civil courts of the Provincial Courts, the Courts of First Instance and the Courts of Peace and certain specialised courts (Family, Commercial Courts, Community trade mark, violence against women).

The Commercial Courts, of Community trade mark, are analysed in the fiche for the court in Spain.


The Criminal Court of the High Court of the Supreme Court, the Criminal Division of the High Court, the Criminal and Criminal Division of the High Courts, the Criminal Courts, the Criminal Courts, the Criminal Courts, the Criminal Courts, the courts for minors, the courts for prison sentences, the courts for criminal violence against women and the Magistrates’ Court have jurisdiction.

The Juvenile Courts, the Courts for Prison Surveillance, and the Courts for Violence against Women are analysed in the fiche for the Court in Spain.


The administrative courts, the 3th Chamber of the Supreme Court, the Chamber for Contentious Administrative Proceedings of the National High Court, the Chamber for Contentious Administrative Proceedings of the High Courts of Justice, the Administrative Courts and the Courts for Contentious Administrative Proceedings.


The Social Chamber, Chamber 4 of the Supreme Court, the Chamber for Social Affairs of the National High Court, the Social Chamber of the High Courts of Justice and the Social Courts.

The powers of all the bodies mentioned above are laid down in the Link opens in new windowOrganic Law on the Judiciary.

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Link opens in new windowLAW ON THE JUDICIARY

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Last update: 30/10/2019