DESCRIPTION OF THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM OF URUGUAY
Justice in Uruguay is centralized in the Judicial Branch, which has national authority; that is, there are no autonomous judicial institutions within each department or city.
The Judicial Branch is organized on the basis of its independence with respect to the other governing branches in the State, and of the functional independence of the judicial institutions which compose it. That is, there is no functional hierarchy between the various institutions of the Judicial Branch, in the exercise of the jurisdictional function. In its administrative activities, however, all institutions and offices of the Judicial Branch are subject to the authority of the Supreme Court of Justice.
The institutions of jurisdictional justice in Uruguay are: the Supreme Court of Justice, the Courts of Appeal, District Courts (Juzgados Letrados), Peace Courts (Juzgados de Paz) and Rural Courts (Juzgados Rurales).
The average duration of civil suits in Uruguay has increased as a consequence of the increase in judicial activity. In 1998, 968 judgments were rendered in the first instance in civil matters, and 245 in the second instance. A total of 1284 judgments were rendered in civil matters in that year. In 2007, 1328 judgments were rendered in civil matters and 418 in the second instance. A total of 1746 judgments were rendered in civil matters in that year. In 1998, the average duration of a civil suit was 18.5 months for the first instance and 4.4 months for the second instance, whilst in 2007, the duration was 26.3 months for the first instance and 5.8 months for the second instance.
The Supreme Court of Justice
The SCJ is composed of five judges, elected by the General Assembly with a majority of two thirds of the votes of the total number of members. Courts of Appeal
The Courts of Appeal
The Courts of Appeal find, in the second instance, in appeals lodged against sentences of the first instance passed by District Courts in the respective areas. The Courts of Appeal are specialized according to subject matter; at present there are Courts of Appeal in the following areas: Civil, Family, Labor and Criminal.
The Court is the basic jurisdictional unit; the difference between a Court and the Courts of Appeal being that the Courts find in the first instance and are individual, whereas the Courts of Appeal find in the second instance and are composed of a tribunal (three members). Courts may be of three types: District, Peace and Rural.
District Courts (“Juzgado Letrado”)
District Courts are of two kinds: District Courts of First Instance, with territorial jurisdiction within the department of Montevideo, and District Courts of First Instance in the Interior, with jurisdiction in departments other than Montevideo (in Uruguay, the area beyond the capital city of Montevideo is known as the “interior” of the country).
District Courts of First Instance
Although their full name includes the term “of First Instance”, this is a redundancy, as, in fact, there are no District Courts of Second Instance. Furthermore, District Courts of First Instance act as appeal courts for Peace Courts, so the name is not entirely apt.
Specialization of the District Courts, according to subject matter, is as follows:
Criminal District Courts of First Instance: find in all stages in the first instance of the criminal procedure (instruction, summary proceedings and plenary proceedings). Some of these Courts specialize in organized crime.
Civil District Courts of First Instance: find in the first instance in all matters of contentious, civil, commercial and property jurisdiction, which do not involve other judges. They also find in the second and last instance (there is no third instance in Uruguay), in appeals against sentences passed by Departmental Justices of the Peace, in the capital city.
Labour District Courts of First Instance: find in the first instance in matters originating in labour conflicts involving individuals.
Customs District Courts of First Instance: have jurisdiction over contentious matters related to customs (violations of customs legislation: differences, fraud and contraband), as well as abandoned merchandise and tax violations.
Juvenile District Courts of First Instance: find in all preventive, educational and corrective procedures originated by anti-social acts committed by minors and the situations of abandonment in which they may be found.
Family District Courts: find, in the first instance in matters pertaining to the name, civil status and capacity of individuals and to personal and patrimonial relationships between members of legitimate and natural families. These matters are: Claims and pleas with regard to legitimate and natural filial relationships and to civil status; actions related to marriage and the situation of spouses; legal separations, divorce, marriage annulments, alimony or maintenance payments and visiting rights; guardianship, tutelage, administration of children’s assets; suspension, limitation, loss and restitution of parental authority; emancipation, coming of age rights and permission to make use of assets; adoption and legitimization through adoption; declarations of incapacity, guardianship and absence; matrimonial assets system; inheritance procedures; and personal or patrimonial matters arising from concubinage.
Contentious Administrative District Courts of First Instance: find in all contentious administrative matters related to patrimonial reparation, in which a public legal person connected to the State is a defendant in a process of expropriation; in appeals on the grounds of unconstitutionality (in the case of actions, events or omissions incurred by State officials), and in the second instance, in sentences passed by Departmental Justices of the Peace in Montevideo, in matters within their material jurisdiction.
Bankruptcy District Courts: find in the first instance in all proceedings involving creditors and debtors: civil meetings of creditors, deeds of composition, corporate moratoria, bankruptcy and compulsory liquidations, within the department of Montevideo.)