Introduction to Spanish Law

Spanish-ParliamentHopefully, you will not need to know a lot about Spanish Law. If all goes well you can manage to obtain residency, buy a house, get a job or set up a company just using the services of a gestor or a lawyer if necessary. Brushes with the law are obviously not to be encouraged but every now and again these things are inevitable-traffic offences, robberies, muggings, and land disputes etc. Try not to get to depressed please!

To start with, Spanish Law is based on a completely different system to British. The Spanish system is a Civil Law system, as opposed to the Anglo-Saxon common law system of the UK. The main difference is that laws are not made by the courts but by legislation and custom- codified and applied by the courts. In other words the laws are all set out by legislation rather than changing with the courts decisions.

All laws are laid out in the Civil Code and the Criminal Code (Codigo Civil and Codigo Penal), copies of which can be bought readily and cheaply from most bookshops and hypermarket book sections. That’s if you really can’t think of anything better to read on the beach! The Constitution of Spain is also available at a bargain price. However since Spain became a member of the EU in 1986 the law of the community takes precedence.

The Spanish Constitution allows for an independent judiciary headed by the Supreme Court. Under the Supreme Court are territorial courts, regional courts, provincial courts, courts of the first instance and municipal courts. Hopefully most of your dealings will be dealt with in the last two.

However, above all these courts is the Constitutional Court which has the power to determine the constitutionality of acts and Statutes of the Spanish Government. This is the last resort for individuals to appeal for protection against governmental acts that violate their “fundamental rights or freedoms”. This court was involved in the ruling that the crimes against humanity of the late Pinochet could be handled in the Spanish system.

All new laws are published in Spain 20 days before coming into force in the BOE (Boletin Oficial de Estado) and new laws in Andalucía, which is an Autonomous Region of Spain are published in the BOJA (Boletin Oficial de Junta Andalucia). This is all available on the internet –perfect for late night surfing!

One of the most frequent contacts you will have with the law is when visiting a Notary to notarise (in other words to make public record) any transfer of real estate or when making a Power of Attorney. Notaries are law graduates who have passed a very competitive examination to become a notary. The financial rewards seem to be worth the effort-most notaries enjoy a very good standard of living! You may also come into contact with the Land Registrar in your municipality or province.

The Land Registry is where rights over real estate are registered and if you buy or sell a property you or your lawyer will visit the Land Registry. Registrars are also law graduates.

Now this all sounds quite straightforward and logical but Spain being Spain the wheels of any institutional system run very slowly! Many courts have massive backlogs of cases, especially in property disputes, and some cases take years to come to court. But things are improving; in 2005 a new system was introduced to try to appoint judges from within the legal profession. This, in theory, should start to speed things up!

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