DESCRIPTION OF THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM OF GUATEMALA
The Judicial Branch is entrusted with the duty and the authority to render justice independently. To this end, the Judicial Branch Law, decree 2-89 of Congress, states that in exercising the sovereign power delegated to it by the people of Guatemala, the Judicial Branch must impart justice in accordance with the text of the Constitution. There is a duty imposed on all organs of the public administration to assist and cooperate with the Judiciary in the administration of justice.
In the Guatemalan System, the different courts are distinguished according to whether they have exclusive or ordinary jurisdiction. The Judicial Branch Law establishes the principles that courts must follow, as well as the competence of courts with the respective appeals system. Concerning the appeals system, the PCR imposes a two-tier system not allowing more than two instances.
According to Article 58 of the Judicial Branch Law jurisdiction is indivisible. The following is a general description of the Guatemalan court system:
a) Minor or Peace courts: This is the name given to “judges of peace” exercising their duties in the respective municipalities; it is also given to Mayors who carry out the duties of judges of peace in municipalities where the latter do not exist.
b) Child and Adolescence courts and for Adolescents in conflict with Criminal Law and oversight in the implementation of measures.
c) First instance courts: They judge first tier cases in civil, commercial, criminal, labor and family matters.
d) Courts of Appeals: Presented with the appeals cases from the first instance. It also hears some matters coming under their exclusive jurisdiction.
e) Division of Child and Adolescence
f) Contentious Administrative Tribunal
g) Appellate Court of Accounts
h) Supreme Court of Justice and its Chambers: It is the highest court in the Republic composed of 13 justices. It is divided into chambers.
General relations between the administrative government and its employees are governed by the Civil Service Law, decree 1748 of Congress. In addition, Foreign Affairs servants and Judiciary officers have specific Civil Service Laws. Autonomous decentralized state organs are governed by their own constitutive regulations. The latter would be the case of the organic law of the Superintendence of Banks, the Guatemalan Institute of Social Security, the Guatemalan Institute of Tourism, among others.
For the settlement of disputes within the administrative realm, remedies must be exhausted before a case can be presented to a judge. In that case, the Contentious- Administrative Tribunal is empowered to hear litigation deriving from acts or resolutions made by the public administration, municipalities, and decentralized, autonomous or semi-autonomous entities in the exercise of their own powers, as well as in cases of claims based on contracts or concessions of an administrative nature.
With a view of enhancing transparency within the public administration, Guatemala has a Law of Access to Public Information issued under decree number 57-2008 of Congress to protect and guarantee the right of all interested persons to become aware of, request and have access to all existing information related to their person in the public records. 3.5 Other State Organs
The following authorities are independent state organs and not under the jurisdiction of any of the three main branches of government, although they are under the duty to fully cooperate with them. Their legal basis is the PCR.
Public Prosecutor’s Office
It is prescribed as an auxiliary of the public administration and the courts. In cases of public offenses, criminal action is of a public nature and may be brought by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, by the offended party or by any citizen. The Public Prosecutor’s powers and duties are governed by the specific Organic Law, decree 40-94 of Congress. The Public Prosecutor is appointed by the President for a term of 4 years.
In 2007, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) was established under an agreement between the UN and the Guatemalan Government that came into effect on 4 September 2007. CICIG is an independent, non-UN body, with a mandate to conduct its own investigations and also help local institutions, particularly the Office of the Public Prosecutor to eradicate illegal armed groups and clandestine security organizations. It can also act as a complementary prosecutor to help bring high-profile cases to trial before the national courts, recommend laws and policies, and enter into cooperation agreements to carry out its full mandate. CICIG has a two-year mandate, which has been extended on two occasions since 2009; its current mandate expires on 3 September 2013.
Attorney General’s Office
The Attorney General’s powers and duties are governed by the specific Organic Law, decree 512 of Congress. The Attorney General is appointed by the President for a term of 4 years. Duties of the Attorney General include representing the state and defending its rights and interests by legal or other means, bringing legal action of any type and aiding the courts and public administration, as well as exercising the functions of juridical advisor.
The Ombudsman has the main responsibility of investigating allegations of human rights violations and promoting efficiency and management in the area of human rights. The Ombudsman is appointed for five years. Guatemala has a national human rights committee composed of congressmen representing the different political parties. The Ombudsman is part of this committee and presents an annual report on human rights through the aforementioned committee.