DESCRIPTION OF THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM OF THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
General Court System
The judicial system consists of the Supreme Court of Justice, Court of Appeals, Courts of First Instance, and the Justices of the Peace. At the time the Torrens property system was created, a separate system of Land Courts as a specialized jurisdiction within the legal framework was established. Other special courts include: the Juvenile Courts, Labor Courts, and the Tax Court, better known as the Tribunal Contencioso Tributario.
Supreme Court of Justice
The Supreme Court of Justice is composed of 16 Magistrates elected by The National Judiciary Council (Consejo Nacional de la Magistratura), pursuant to Law No. 169 of August 2, 1997. The Council selects one Magistrate to serve as President of the Court, and designates a first and second substitute to replace the President of the Supreme Court of Justice in case of absence or incapacity (First Vice-President and Second Vice-President).
The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over any cause of action brought against the President, the Vice President, or other public officials, as designated in the Constitution.
One of the most important functions of the Supreme Court of Justice is to hear appeals of Cassation (Recurso de Casación). It also hears ordinary appeals from matters arising in the Courts of Appeals, as well as questions on the constitutionality of laws.
The Supreme Court is the highest administrative authority of the Judicial Power. It designates the judges and administrative personnel of all courts, exercises the highest disciplinary authority over all members of the judiciary. The official reporter of Supreme Court of Justice decisions is the Judicial Bulletin (Boletín Judicial), which is also published electronically on the Supreme Court of Justice homepage under Boletines Judiciales.
Major provisions which govern the Supreme Court of Justice include the following:
· The Constitution of the Dominican Republic, Articles 63 to 77.
· Law No. 821, 1927, on Judicial Organization (de Organización Judicial) and its modifications specially laws: Law No. 156-97 and Law No. 50-00, establishing the administrative judge of the courts and random assignment of cases.
· Law No. 25-91, Organic Law of the Supreme Court of Justice (Ley Orgánica de la Suprema Corte de Justicia)
· Law No. 327-98 July 9, 1998 establishing a Civil Service Career Path for the Judiciary.
· Law No. 169-97, Organic Law of the National Judicial Council (Ley Orgánica del Consejo Nacional de la Magistratura)
· Law No 46-97, on the Administrative and Budgetary Autonomy of the Judicial and Legislative Powers, complemented by Law No.194-04 allocating a fix percent of the National Budget to the Legislative and Judicial Powers.
Courts of Appeal
There are eleven Courts of Appeals, one for each judicial district. Five judges sit on each of the courts. The Court of Appeals functions primarily as an appellate body and it hears appeals from decisions issued by Courts of First Instance. The Courts of Appeals have original jurisdiction in accusations against lower court judges, prosecutors (Procuradores Fiscales), and Governors. These courts may be divided into Criminal and Civil Chambers. Judgments of the Courts of Appeals from the National District have been published electronically since January 2001 until December 2006, on the Supreme Court of Justice homepage.
Courts of First Instance
The Courts of First Instance are divided into Criminal, and Civil and/or Commercial Chambers. Depending on the size of the District, these courts may be subdivided into Halls (Salas). The National District has eight Civil and Commercial Halls, and twelve Criminal Halls. The administrative judge or Chamber President distributes the cases among the different halls through a random allocation system. Justices of the Peace
The Justices of the Peace are courts authorized to hear small claim cases. They predominantly hear police and labor matters, as well as any other matter which Congress, through legislation, empowers them to hear. There is at least one small court in each municipality, plus one located in the National District. Only one judge presides on each Peace Court.
The Juvenile Courts addresses both civil and criminal matters, particularly issues pertaining to paternity, guardianship, visitation rights, child support and adoption. There are twenty four Juvenile Courts of First Instance and five Courts of Appeal, which are located in the cities of Santo Domingo, Santiago, San Pedro de Macorís, San Cristóbal and La Vega. Labor Courts
The Labor Courts were created by the Labor Code to resolve conflicts between workers and employers. There are twenty three Labor Courts of First Instance and five Labor Courts of Appeal. For large Districts these courts can be subdivided into Halls (Salas). The Labor Court of First Instance for the National District has six halls. Land Courts
The Land Courts are concerned exclusively with procedures relating to clearing title to property, registering real property, and resolving disputes relating to real property. The Land Courts include three High Courts (Tribunales Superiores de Tierras), one in Santo Domingo and the others in the cities of Santiago, and San Francisco de Macorís, and thirty one Land Courts of original jurisdictional. For each a sole judge decides all matters relating to real property.
The High Courts are primarily appellate courts and hear appeals from the Land Courts of original jurisdiction. Each High Court sits at least five judges, but Land Court proceedings are presided by a sole judge.
The Tax Court (Tribunal Contencioso Tributario) is formed of five judges and has jurisdiction over appeals filed against decisions of the public administration regarding the application of taxes. The decisions of the Tax Court have been reported since July 1996 to present on the Supreme Court of Justice homepage.
There are other specialized administrative courts or quasi-judicial bodies with jurisdiction to hear certain types of matters. These include the Central Electoral Board, which solves conflicts arising from elections, the Higher Administrative Court (Law No. 1494 of 1947), the Police Court (Law No. 285 of 1966, as amended) and the Military Court (Law No. 3489 of 1953).
The Public Prosecutor is the agency of the Executive Branch responsible for directing the investigation of criminal acts, assisting with the prosecution of criminal actions and protecting the interests of the State. It is functionally independent of the Courts by means of Ley No. 78-03 regulating the Public Prosecutor.
The Public Prosecutors Office is composed of the following officials: The Attorney General of the Republic which represents the State before the Supreme Court of Justice; General Prosecutors before the Courts of Appeal; Public Prosecutors who appear before the Courts of First Instance; and Public Attorneys who appear before the ordinary Justice of the Peace Courts. The Attorneys for the State (Abogados del Estado) who are part of the Public Prosecutors Office, appear before the Land Courts.