The Judicial Branch of Chile is empowered to hear civil and criminal trials, to adjudicate them, and carry out the judicial decision. Its highest jurisdictional body is the Supreme Court. This tribunal oversees correct application of the legislation in force and also exercises administrative and disciplinary control over all other courts and judges in the country.

The Courts of Appeals, which are in charge of a given juridical territory as defined by law, serve as courts of second instance or review to oversee and monitor the courts located within their jurisdictions.

The administration of justice is currently conducted by more than 350 judges who specialize in various areas of law, such as juvenile, labor, criminal, and civil law. The New System of Criminal Trials was implemented throughout the country in June of 2005. This means that the number of judges in the criminal area alone will increase to 809. They will serve in Courts of Constitutional Rights, which are charged with protecting the fundamental rights of victims and defendants, and in Oral Criminal Trial Courts, which determine the guilt or innocence of defendants.

The Public Ministry, headed by the National Prosecutor, is the agency charged by law with conducting investigations within the new Criminal Justice System.

This agency, created by Constitutional Organic Law as an autonomous entity, defends the interests of society, particularly the victims when warranted. It is responsible for initiating criminal proceedings before the Criminal Trial Courts. To this end, once the system is fully implemented, the Public Ministry will have 642 prosecutors nationally.

In order to prosecute crimes more efficiently, the Public Ministry was designed to include specialized units (drug trafficking, money laundering, economic crimes, etc.) which will enable it to approach crime with more technical expertise than is currently used.

The counterpart to the Public Ministry within the new criminal justice system is the Office of the Public Defender. It is headed up by the National Public Defender, appointed by the President of the Republic, and is supported by regional offices. This institution involves the public and private sectors in its mission and will have an inter-institutional National Council with representatives of the Executive Branch, the Judicial Branch, and various academic and civil society institutions.

The Ministry of Justice

The Ministry of Justice is another actor within the Judicial Branch. It serves as a liaison between the Executive and Judicial Branches.

Among its principal functions is the critical study of constitutional standards and civil, criminal, commercial, and procedural legislation in order to propose needed reforms to the President of the Republic.

The Ministry also advises the President on the appointment of judges, judicial officers, and other employees of the judicial branch, and ensures that the courts are organized and functioning well.

Among the more relevant areas that it oversees are the establishment of sector policies, plans, and programs, particularly regarding legal defense of the State’s interests, penitentiary treatment and rehabilitation of inmates, as well as legal organization of the family and identification of persons.