The Legal System in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a beautiful sunny country in Central America bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea on the west and east coast respectively; and also bordered by the countries of Nicaragua and Panama on the North and South coasts respectively.
The Spanish speaking country runs a Democratic Republic government based on the 1949 Constitution (Constitución Politica de la República de Costa Rica) later amended in 1989. Costa Rica has a national and local government structure.
Costa Rica National Government
At the National Government level, there is the executive, legislative and judiciary branch. The executive comprises of the President who is elected into office every four years after winning the majority votes in the country’s general elections. Unlike most other Republics, Costa Rica’s president appoints two vice-presidents along with the twenty cabinet officers. A former president may run for reelection, but it must not be consecutively.
Costa Rica Legislature
There is only one house in the Costa Rica legislative structure as the country operates a Unicameral Legislative Assembly (Asamblea Legislativa) holding fifty-seven seats. Each legislative member can serve a four year term after winning the majority votes. The legislature has six permanent commissions and fifteen special commissions. To promote accountability, the legislature also has an independent office known as The Ombudsman (Defensoría de Los Habitantes) which offers it’s services for free. Those seeking more information or documents relating to Costa Rica legislature, will find all they need at the legislature’s own library called Biblioteca de La Asamblea Legislativa.
Costa Rica Judiciary
Costa Rica’s justice administration system or simply judicial branch (Poder Judicial) comprises of the Supreme court, appellate courts and trial courts. The administrative rules governing the operation of the judicial branch can be found in the Ley Organica del Poder Judicial.
Supreme Court of Costa Rica has four chambers, although, they were originally three, each with different jurisdictions. Chamber I known as Sala Primera has jurisdiction to hear all civil and administrative matters and is presided over by seven Magistrates. Chamber II known as Sala Segunda has jurisdiction to hear all civil matters which also includes family law, real estate and labour or employment law; and is presided over by five Magistrates. Chamber III known as Sala Tercera hears only criminal appeals from lower courts and is presided over by five Magistrates.
The Amended Constitution (in 1989) provided for a new chamber, the fourth, with special exclusive jurisdiction over all constitutional related matters which include interpretation of the constitution or infringement on a constitutionally guaranteed right. Chamber IV is also known as Sala Cuarta.
The above will guide you in knowing the appropriate court to approach for a specific judicial redress. You can also visit the website of each Chambers to obtain more information or research on case law.
Costa Rica Local Government
At the local government level, Costa Rica is divided into seven Provinces, the Provinces are further divided into Cantons which are eighty-one (81) in number and finally, each Canton is divided into Districts which are four hundred and seventh (470) in number. These divisions are mostly for political and administrative purposes.
The seven Provinces of Costa Rica are San Jose with twenty (20) Cantons, Alajuela with fifteen (15) Cantons, Cartago with eight (8) Cantons, Heredia with ten (10) Cantons, Guanacaste with eleven (11) Cantons, Puntarenas with eleven (11) Cantons and Limon with six (6) Cantons. Each of these Cantons are headed by a Municipal government, a total of eighty-one (82) with four hundred and seventy (470) territorial areas (districts) from the Cantons.
The administrative head of the Municipal government is a Mayor known as Alcalde who holds the elected office for six years after winning majority of the votes and can be reelected. The Mayor begins office upon appointment by the Municipal Council known as the Consejo Municipal.
The National Registry System
This system is under the operation and management of the Ministry of Justice, which is apt as it is the home for the database of all documents relating to real estate transactions, registration of corporations, executions of powers of attorney, trademarks and intellectual property registrations, security, stocks and bonds and other property related documents requiring registration.
Understanding how the Costa Rica legal system works will go along way in helping you know your dos and don’ts when doing business or relocating to the country.