DESCRIPTION OF THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM OF HONDURAS
The judicial branch of government consists of a Supreme Court of Justice, courts of appeals, courts of first instance (Juzgados de Letras), and justices of the peace. The Supreme Court, which is the court of last resort, has fifteen principal justices. The Supreme Court has fourteen constitutional powers and duties. These include the appointment of judges and justices of the lower courts and public prosecutors; the power to declare laws to be unconstitutional; the power to try high-ranking government officials when the National Congress has declared that there are grounds for impeachment; and publication of the court's official record, the Gaceta Judicial. The court has three chambers-- civil, criminal, and labor—with three justices assigned to each chamber.
Organizationally below the Supreme Court are the courts of appeals. These courts are three-judge panels that hear all appeals from the lower courts, including civil and commercial, criminal, labor, administrative and constitutional or habeas corpus cases. To be eligible to sit on these courts, the judges must be attorneys and at least twenty-five years old. The next levels of courts are the first instance courts, distributed throughout the country, which serve as trial courts. The first-instance courts cover both civil/commercial and criminal cases, labor, family, administrative, domestic violence and juvenile cases. The judges, who must be at least twenty-one years old, hold degrees in juridical science.
The lowest level of the court system consists of justices of the peace distributed throughout the country. Each department capital and municipalities with populations of more than 4,000 are supposed to have two justices, and municipalities with populations less than 4,000 are supposed to have one justice of the peace. Justices of the peace handling criminal cases act as investigating magistrates and are involved only in minor cases. More serious criminal cases are handled by the first instance courts. Justices of the peace must be more than twenty-one years of age, live in the municipality where they have jurisdiction, and have the ability to read and write. Political patronage has traditionally been the most important factor in appointing justices of the peace, and this practice has often led to less than qualified judicial personnel, some of whom have not completed primary education.
Closely associated with the judicial system and the administration of justice in Honduras is the Office of the Attorney General, which, as provided in the Constitution, is the legal representative of the State, representing the State's interests. Both the attorney general and the deputy attorney general are elected by the National Congress for a period of four years, coinciding with the presidential and legislative terms of office. The Attorney General is expected to initiate civil and criminal actions based on the results of the audits of the Superior Accounts Tribunal (Comptroller Office). The law creating the Office of the Attorney General was first enacted in 1961.
Public Prosecutor’s Office
The Public Prosecutor’s Office (Ministerio Público) is an independent, autonomous, and apolitical organization, not under either the Supreme Court or the Office of the Attorney General. The Public Prosecutor General is appointed by the National Congress. An independent entity, functionally unattached to all three branches of Government, the Public Ministry was instituted on January the 6th, 1994, through Legislative Decree No. 228-93. Its main functions are the prosecution of all crimes and felonies, to ensure full compliance by all with the Constitution and the law of the land, and to represent, to defend and to protect the general interest of society.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office has jurisdiction in all the Republic of Honduras, and all persons and legal entities have access without any restriction of age, sex, religion etc.
Human Rights Commissioner
Honduras has a National Human Rights Commissioner who acts as an “Ombudsman”, having the mission to promote the integrity and security of all Hondurans. The Human Rights Commissioner is a direct and free alternative for mediation with the State Government and the citizens, especially when human rights have been violated.
The Human Rights Commissioner may act by his own means or by request in any case originated on abuse of power, law error, negligence or omission, and disobedience to courts´ rulings. In addition, he may act in regards to conflicts between citizens (except in cases of domestic violence) and it may also act with respect to a problem that is pending a judicial or administrative resolution.
Sources of Law
According to Honduras Civil Code, specifically Articles 1 and 2, the sources of law recognized in the Honduras legislation are the Law as a primary source, Jurisprudence and Legal Doctrine, together with common uses and customs in cases in which the law makes specifically reference to them. Common uses and popular customs may only be used as a source and therefore applicable law as long as they are not contrary to morals, public order and are duly proven.