This page provides information about the Spanish legal system and a general overview of the legal system in Spain.
Sources of the Spanish legal system
The sources of the Spanish legal system are defined in Article 1 of the Civil Code:
Types of rules
Constitution: Supreme legal rule of the State, to which all public authorities and citizens are subject. Any provision or act contrary to the Constitution is invalid. It is structured in two clearly separate parts as regards its content: a) the dogmatic part, and b) the organic part.
International Treaties: a written agreement between certain subjects of international law and which is governed by it, which can consist of one or more related legal instruments, irrespective of what it is called.
Statutes of Autonomy: basic Spanish institutional rule of an Autonomous Community, recognised by the Spanish Constitution of 1978 and which is approved by the Organic Law. It contains at least the name of the Community, the territorial limits, the name, organisation and seat of the autonomous institutions and the powers assumed.
Hierarchy of rules
Article 1.2 of the Spanish Civil Code states that ‘provisions which contradict those of higher ranking are invalid’. This means that a hierarchy of rules must of necessity be established, and to this end the Spanish Constitution governs the interrelationship between the various rules and their hierarchical and jurisdictional relationships.
According to the Constitution, the primacy of rules under Spanish law is as follows:
In addition to this, a principle of jurisdiction has been established with regard to rules emanating from the Autonomous Communities by means of their own Parliaments.
Institutions responsible for passing legal rules.
The institutional framework in Spain is based on the principle of separation of power, with legislative power being attributed to the Cortes Generales and to the Legislative Assemblies of the Autonomous Communities.
The Government has the executive power, including the power to regulate and on occasions exercises legislative power by delegation from the Cortes Generales.
Regulatory rather than legislative power has been given to Local Authorities.
The legislative initiative lies with the Government, the Congress and the Senate, the Assemblies of the Autonomous Communities and the popular initiative.
The decision-making process
International Treaties: three approval mechanisms exist, depending on which type of subjects the Treaty is regulating.
International Treaties which have been validly entered into, once officially published in Spain, become part of the internal order. Their provisions can only be derogated, modified or suspended in the manner specified in the Treaties themselves or in accordance with the general rules of International Law. International Treaties and agreements are terminated using the same procedure as for their approval.
Bills are approved by the Council of Ministers, which submits them to Congress, accompanied by an explanation of the reasons and background necessary for a decision to be taken on them.
Once an ordinary or organic bill has been approved by the Congress of Deputies, the President thereof immediately reports to the President of the Senate, who submits it for deliberation by the Senate. Within a period of two months from the day the draft is received, the Senate can exercise its veto or introduce amendments to it. The veto must be approved by an absolute majority.
The bill cannot be submitted to the King for his assent unless Congress ratifies the initial draft by absolute majority, in the case of a veto, or by simple majority once two months have passed since it was submitted, or rules on the amendments, accepting them or not by simple majority. The period of two months which the Senate has in order 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 the Congress of Deputies.
The King sanctions Laws approved by the Cortes Generales within fifteen days, issues them and orders their immediate publication.
Regulation: regulations are issued in accordance with the following procedure:
Databases of legislation
The Official State Gazette has a database containing all legislation published since 1960: Iberlex.
Is access to the databases free of charge?
Access to this database is free of charge.
Short description of the contents
Gazettes published since 1960 can be consulted on the Official State Gazette’s website.
There is a search engine for searching legislation and announcements, together with databases of Constitutional Case‑ Law since 1980, Case‑Law of the Abogacía del Estado (State lawyers) (reports and rulings since 1997) and of the Council of State. Finally, it offers alerting services for legislative notifications, public announcements and information consultations and documentation.
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