This page provides information on the Spanish legal system and a general overview of the country's legal order.
The sources of Spanish law are defined in Article 1 of the Civil Code (Código Civil):
Constitution: supreme legal order of the Spanish State, to which all public authorities and citizens are subject. Any provision or act contrary to the Constitution is without legal validity. Its content is separated into two clearly differentiated parts: a) legal doctrine and b) organic law.
International treaties: written agreements entered into between certain subjects of international law and governed by that law. They may consist of one or more related legal instruments, regardless of their denomination. Once signed and officially published in Spain, international treaties become part of the internal legal order.
Statutes of autonomy: basic Spanish institutional rules applicable to individual autonomous communities and recognised by the Spanish Constitution of 1978. They are adopted by organic law. They contain, at least, the denomination of the autonomous community; its territorial boundaries; the denominations, organisational structures and seats of the autonomous institutions; and the powers vested in them. Statutes of autonomy are not an expression of sovereignty, nor are they a constitution since they do not stem from an originating constituting power (which was not vested in the territories that became autonomous communities). Rather, they owe their existence to their recognition by the State without, under any circumstances, the principle of autonomy challenging the principle of unity.
Article 1.2 of the Spanish Civil Code states that ‘provisions that contradict another of higher ranking shall be without legal validity’. This means that a hierarchy of norms must by necessity be established. To this end, the Spanish Constitution regulates the interrelationship between the various norms and their hierarchical and jurisdictional relationships.
Under the Constitution, the primacy of norms in Spanish law is as follows:
In addition to this, a principle of jurisdiction is established with regard to rules issued by the parliaments of the various autonomous communities (regional government decrees, regional government orders, etc.).
Judges and courts shall not apply regulations or other provisions that contravene the Constitution, the law or the principle of a hierarchy of norms.
Spain's institutional framework is based on the principle of separation of powers, with legislative power being vested in the Spanish Parliament and the legislative assemblies of the country’s autonomous communities.
Government, both at state level and in each autonomous community, holds executive power — including the power to regulate — and on occasions exercises legislative power as delegated to it by Parliament.
Local authorities do not have legislative power, but they do wield regulatory power, which is principally exercised in the form of municipal by-laws.
Legislative initiative lies with the Government, Congress and Senate, the assemblies of the autonomous communities and, in certain cases, popular initiative.
International treaties: three adoption mechanisms are available, depending on the matters regulated by the treaty.
Once signed and officially published in Spain, international treaties become part of the internal legal order. Treaty provisions may only be derogated, amended or suspended in the manner specified in the treaties themselves or in accordance with the general rules of international law. International treaties and agreements may be terminated by the same procedure as for their adoption.
Bills are approved by the Council of Ministers (Consejo de Ministros), which submits them to Congress with an explanation of the reasons for their introduction and the legal background necessary for Congress to make a decision on them.
In the case of autonomous communities, bills are approved by the respective councils of ministers and are submitted, on identical terms, to the legislative assembly of the autonomous community in question.
Once the bill for an ordinary or organic law has been approved by Congress, the President thereof immediately refers it the President of the Senate, who then submits it to the Senate for deliberation. The Senate has two months from the date of receipt of the bill to exercise its veto or introduce amendments. Vetoes must be approved by an absolute majority.
A bill cannot be submitted to the Monarch for assent until Congress has ratified the initial draft (in the case of a veto, this must be by absolute majority; a simple majority is sufficient once two months have passed since submission of the bill) or has voted on the amendments, accepting or rejecting them by simple majority. The two-month period allowed to the Senate to veto or amend the bill is reduced to twenty calendar days in the case of bills declared to be urgent by the Government or by Congress.
Laws adopted by Parliament are submitted to the Monarch, who within fifteen days of adoption endorses them, enacts them and orders their publication.
Regulations: the procedure by which these are drawn up is as follows:
The Official State Gazette operates a database containing all legislation published since 1960: Iberlex.
Access to this database is free of charge.
All gazettes published since 1960 can be consulted on the Official State Gazette website.
The website includes a search engine for legislation and announcements, together with databases of constitutional case-law (from 1980 onwards), reports and opinions of the State Legal Service (Abogacía del Estado) (from 1997 onwards) and opinions of the Council of State. It also includes the recast versions containing the main amendments made to the legislation. Finally, it offers an alert service covering legislative notifications, public announcements and consultation of information and documentation.
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Member States in charge of the management of national content pages are in the process of updating some of the content on this website in the light of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. If the site contains content that does not yet reflect the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, it is unintentional and will be addressed.