DESCRIPTION OF THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM OF COLOMBIA
Colombia’s judicial branch is made up of the State’s high courts — the Constitutional Court (Corte Constitutional), the Supreme Court (Corte Suprema de Justicia), the Council of State (Consejo de Estado), the Superior Council of Justice Administration (Consejo Superior de la Judicatura), the Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la Nación) and the lower administrative and civil courts.
• The Constitutional Court (Corte Constitutional) reviews the constitutionality of enacted laws when challenged before the court by any citizen (ie. no specific cause of action is required). The Court also chooses to ultimately and definitively review lower court decisions resulting from a constitutionally sanctioned legal recourse to protect a person’s constitutional rights (Acción de Tutela). Finally, the Court is also responsible for reviewing the constitutionality of international treaties as a condition for their ratification. The Court’s website has helpful decision indices and search tools in Spanish (see “relatoría”).
• The Supreme Court of Justice(Corte Suprema de Justicia) is the highest court for civil (including commercial), criminal and labor disputes. The Court has the power to quash appeal decisions by the Superior Tribunals (Tribunales Superiores) in each judicial district (in turn each judicial district includes municipal courts and circuit courts with jurisdiction based on subject matter and amount in dispute ). The Court is also responsible for the recognition of foreign judgments and arbitral awards (a process known as exequatur). The Court’s website has useful decision search tool in Spanish (see “consulta jurisprudencial”).
• The Council of State(Consejo de Estado) is the highest court for disputes arising from administrative conduct or omissions (including those of the Inspector General and Comptroller General). It has the power to annul government decrees, administrative regulations and order the State to pay damages to aggrieved contractual parties. The Court also reviews the appeals decisions of the Administrative Tribunals (Tribunales Administrativos).
• The Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la Nación) is an independent institution that investigates and prosecutes criminal conduct both of private individuals and public officials (with some exceptions for high public officials). Together with the Inspector General and the Comptroller General, the Attorney General is frequently called upon to opine on public matters and warn of potential criminal conduct. See Const., arts. 249-253 and other governing norms on its website: “Normas de creación de la Entidad.”
The Constitution has granted autonomy to a number of organs that do not belong to the three traditional three branches. The most important are the following:
The National Comptroller’s Office (Contraloría General de la República): exercises fiscal control over government accounts and expenditures. The Comptroller General warns of possible detriment to the treasury, audits governmental entities, and investigates and determines fiscal liability both of private citizens and public officials. Its findings can be annulled by the administrative courts. See Const., arts. 267-8 and other applicable norms on its website: “Información al Ciudadano” - “Normatividad”. A number of subnational comptroller offices (departments and municipalities) control the expenditures of locally generated revenues.
The Office of the Inspector General (Procuraduría General de la Nación): safeguards the administration’s compliance with the Constitution and applicable laws. The Inspector General frequently warns of possible violations, intervenes in judicial process and investigates and determines disciplinary liability by public officials. Liability findings take different forms including the suspension or dismissal of the officials but the decisions may be annulled by the administrative courts. See Const. art. 277 and other applicable norms on its website: “Info Institucional-Normatividad.” A number of municipal ombudsmen (personeros municipales) exercise local jurisdiction. Together with the National Ombudsman Office (Defensoría del Pueblo), and the local ombudsmen, the Inspector General endeavors to promote and protect human rights.