The Spanish State structure Estado de las Autonomías, a federal structure?

Regional Higher Courts of justice

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Regional Higher Courts of justice

As mentioned previously in the chapter on autonomous communities, a regional higher court of justice resides in each community. These courts, the so-called Tribunales Superiores de Justicia, were only established in 1989, even though their judicial basis stems from article 152.1 of the 1978 constitution. They replaced the former regional courts and now oversee the judicial organisation in the Autonomous Communities. Its members are appointed by the General Council of the Judiciary among which one member is symbolically appointed by the king as the president. The Courts are subdivided into three chambers, representing the four ordenes. As such, there exists an administrative chamber, a social chamber and a chamber dealing with both civil and penal cases. Competent to deal with matters in all of the above mentioned ordenes on a regional basis, the Regional Higher Courts have indeed taken over some of the duties of the Supreme Court.

Summing up, the Regional Tribunals are competent to:

  • Hear appeals in the last resort in cases concerning territorial law, and hear regular appeals in other civil law cases.

  • Hear regular appeals in cases of criminal law.

  • Settle conflicts of competence between courts of justice in the region.

  • Hear regular appeals in cases of public law concerning competencies which are exclusively reserved to the autonomous communities.

The constitution states that the Spanish territorial unity is the basis for the organisation and functioning of the Tribunals(article 117.5SC). Furthermore, article 152.1SC states that the Regional Higher Courts do not infringe upon the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. As such, the Regional Higher Courts are officially seen as mere decentralised parts of the central judicial power. Nevertheless, their creation is clearly a result of the regionalist process and the subsequent devolution of powers. According to P.Heywood, the conception of the Regional Higher Courts provided for a judicial decentralisation which mirrors the governmental decentralisation. As such, it implies more autonomy and recognition of the latter to the autonomous communities. Though the wish might have been the father to the thought, it is not surprising that initially the Regional Higher Courts were understood to be the highest procedural courts of each of the autonomous communities. In this light they were also considered to be competent in the four ordenes as courts of cassation. This conception was adjusted by the Constitutional Tribunal who pointed out that this task was solely reserved to the Supreme Court and that the Regional Courts are highest only within their region.

Despite their submission to the Supreme Court the Regional Higher Courts do have some exclusive competencies with regards to hearing appeals in the last resort in cases concerning territorial law and regarding the so-called fueros. Article 153.cSC furthermore states that the regional courts have ultimate jurisdiction over the regional administration.

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