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Judiciary of Brazil

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Title: Judiciary of Brazil  
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Judiciary of Brazil

This article is part of a series on the
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The Judiciary of Brazil is the Judiciary branch of the Brazilian government. The structure and the division of jurisdiction of the ramifications of the Brazilian Judiciary is defined in the Brazilian Constitution.

The Courts system overview

The system is divided primarily in the ordinary courts (Justiça comum) and the specialized courts (Justiça especializada).

The specialized courts are kept entirely by the Federal Government and are divided in three ramifications: the Military courts, the Labor courts and the Electoral courts.

The ordinary courts are divided between the Federal and the State's judiciaries. The Judiciary of the Brazilian Federal District has the same Subject-matter jurisdiction of the ordinary state level judiciary over that special territory, but is kept and organized by the Federal Government.

Municipalities hold no judicial powers.

The system is still composed by two special central Courts that do not fit any of the mentioned ramifications of the Judiciary: The Supreme Federal Court and the Superior Court of Justice. Both have headquarters in Brasília.

Supreme Federal Court

The Supreme Federal Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal) is the highest Brazilian Judiciary. Its main responsibility is to serve as the ultimate guardian of Brazilian Constitution, with the roles of a constitutional court.

The most common tool of that Court is the Extraordinary Appeal (Recurso Extraordinário), granted when judgements of second instance courts violate the Constitution.

The Supreme court also holds the power to analyze the constitutionality of a federal or state law or statute, and thus making it invalid, through the Direct Action of Unconstitutionality (Ação Declaratória de Inconstitucionalidade).

Other original jurisdiction includes the decision over extradition.

National Justice Council

Together with the Supreme Federal Court functions the National Justice Council (Conselho Nacional de Justiça). Created in 2004 by the 45th Constitutional Amendment, with headquarters in Brasília, and national range actuation, have the objective to exercise administrative control over the Judiciary (except the Supreme Federal Court), planning and coordinating joint actions between the courts. It also has some disciplinary powers over judges, but cannot remove them from office, which can only be performed by their own Courts or by final decision on a judicial procedure.

Superior Court of Justice

The Superior Court of Justice (Superior Tribunal de Justiça) is the Brazilian highest court in non-constitutional issues concerning both states and Federal ordinary courts. It grants the Special Appeal (Recurso Especial) when a judgement of a court of second instance offends a federal statute disposition or when two or more second instance courts make different rulings on the same federal statute. Other roles include deciding over most jurisdiction conflicts and granting the exequatur to foreign judicial decisions.

Specialized courts

Military courts

They are the courts-martial of the Brazilian Armed Forces. It is headed by the Superior Military Court (Superior Tribunal Militar). The courts are integrated by both civilian and military members.

Labor courts

They have jurisdiction over labor law issues, including collective. It has no jurisdiction over civil servants, except some at municipal level and employees of government entreprises that holds private nature, such as Petrobras and the Correios.

There are first instance courts (varas do trabalho) in major cities, that deals with laborers individual complains, administrative matters concerning labour law and all issues that are not attributed to higher courts.

The second instace courts are the Regional Labor Courts (Tribunais Regionais do Trabalho), that deals with the appeals. They also have direct jurisdiction over some matters concerning collective labour law, including solution of conflicts between trade unions and employers and the right to strike.

The system is headed by the Superior Labor Court, that functions as the highest appeal Court of non-constitutional issues concerning Labor law.

Electoral courts

The Electoral court system of Brazil was created in 1932, in the intention to moralize the Brazilian electoral system. It was dissolved in 1937 and reinstalled in 1945, and since then has been in continuous operation.

The existence of that court system is predicted in the Constitution, but the structure and roles defined in the Brazilian Electoral Code of 1964. Its typical judicial roles include judging electoral matters, both administrative and criminal, and also issues concerning political rights (not "political crimes" or "responsibility crimes").

But the peculiarity of that system is some extra judiciary roles. It includes organizing, executing and controlling all official political elections, and the proclamation of its result.

The system headed by the Superior Electoral Court, which controls the system, and has special responsibilities in defining rules and interpretations for the electoral procedure, and also judging appeals from Regional Courts. Its headquarters are located in Brasília.

Each state has a Regional Electoral Court, based in the capital city. It has special responsibilities over state level elections.

At local level there are the electoral judges and electoral councils. The electoral judges are appointed among state judges and, apart from some individual roles, presides the local electoral council, which is composed by other four appointed citizens.

The Electoral courts have no magistrate career of its own. All judges are designated to serve for a two years term, and can be from magistrate careers from ordinary courts systems, or, in the case of Regional and Superior courts,

Ordinary courts

State-level judiciary

Trial courts

Each state territory is divided into judicial districts (comarcas), which are composed of one or more municipalities. Each judicial district has at least one trial court (vara), that function as a court of first instance for most cases. In larges judicial districts, with two or more trial courts, there usually are specializations of the courts of first instance in terms of the subject, such as crime and family litigation. Judgments from the trial courts can be the subject of judicial review following appeals to the Courts of Justice.

Each court of first instance has a judge and may have a substitute judge. The judge decides alone in civil cases and most of the criminals cases with the exception of the Jury's jurisdiction over willful crimes against life (manslaughter, infanticide, abortion and suicide instigation or auxiliation).

Courts of Justice

The highest court of a state judicial system is its court of second instance, the Courts of Justice. Each Brazilian State has only one Court of Justice (Tribunal de Justiça in Portuguese). They are courts of appeal, meaning they can review any decisions taken by the trial courts, and have the final word on decisions at state law level. Some states, as São Paulo and Minas Gerais, used to have parallel Court of Appeals (Tribunal de Alçada) with different jurisdiction. But the 45th Constitutional Amendment to the Brazilian Constitution, in its article four, decreed their extinction in order to simplify the second instance structure.

Second instance judgments are usually made by three judges, called desembargadores. Large courts are usually divided into civil chambers, which judge civil cases, and criminal chambers.

Other roles of Courts of Justice include the control over constitutionality of statutes passed by municipalities and the organization of the notary and civil registration services.

Some states also have installed separate Military Courts of Justice, that deals with military crimes and disciplinary matters of the state Military Police and Military Firefighters Corps.

Federal courts

The jurisdiction of the Federal courts system is defines in articles 108 and 109 of the Brazilian Constitution, including:

  • Causes where the Federal government,
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