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Colombian Legal Research

This guide provides an overview of Colombia’s government, court structure, and hierarchy of norms, as well as primary and secondary laws.

Basic Legal Structure

Government

The Republic of Colombia (hereinafter Colombia) is a democratic country, organized under the rule of law. The branches of government are the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary. Colombia’s legal system follows the civil law tradition.

Colombia is organized in the form of a unitary republic. It is divided into 32 departments and a capital district, which are under the authority of the central government.

Colombia has a presidential democracy in which the President is both head of state and head of the government, as well as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and supreme administrative authority.

The President is elected for a four (4) years term and consecutive reelection is not allowed.

Ordinary Judiciary Structure

The ordinary judiciary structure is as follows:

  1. Supreme Court of Justice (Corte Suprema de Justicia)
  2. Judicial District Superior Tribunals (Tribunales Superiores del Distrito Judicial)
  3. Lower courts (Juzgados)

Special Jurisdictions

Military tribunals have jurisdiction over offenses committed by members of the police and the military on active service and in relation to their service, in accordance with the Military Penal Code.

The authorities of indigenous peoples may also exercise their jurisdictional functions within their territory following their laws as long as they are not contrary to the Constitution and other existing laws.

The National Electoral Council also has special jurisdiction (to make a final decision) concerning matters related to electoral issues.

Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz) are special tribunals created by an agreement between the national government and FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia). This jurisdiction is responsible for administrating justice for crimes committed before December 1, 2016, during the internal armed conflict.

The Judicial Chambers for Justice and Peace (Salas de Justicia y Paz) were created to try those paramilitaries and guerrilla members who may have been guilty of crimes, according to the terms of Statute 975 of 2005.

Legal Hierarchy

The legal hierarchy of national norms is as follows:

  1. The Constitution (Constitución) / Human rights treaties consecrating rights and freedoms, which are not suspended under state of emergency / Certain treaties specifically indicated by the Constitutional Tribunal
  2. Statutes (Leyes) / Law decrees (Decretos Leyes) / Legislative decrees (Decretos Legislativos) / Other international treaties ratified by Colombia (tratados internacionales) / Codes (Códigos)
  3. National regulations

Official Gazette

"Diario Oficial" is the official Gazette. It contains the laws, regulations, and other relevant documents issued by the government.

Constitution

Constitution

The current Constitution dates back to 1991; it has been amended since then. Its official version is in Spanish.

An English version of the Constitution and a list of its amendments are also available.

Legislation

Legislation

Congress, composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate makes national statutes. The executive also issues executive orders with the same effect as statutes.

Colombia has codes in diverse subject areas such as civil law, commerce law, civil procedural law, etc.

Treaties

Regulations

Regulations

National regulations are classified according to their nature and number (i.e. decrees, resolutions, and directives). They are promulgated by the executive.

Secondary Sources

Case Law

Case Law

Decisions from the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, and State Council can set precedent, according to the terms established by law.

Legal Dictionaries

Legal Dictionaries

Spanish-English Legal Terms

Some useful legal terms for research:

  • Constitución: Constitution
  • Estado de excepción: State of emergency
  • Tratado: Treaty
  • Ley: Statute
  • Decreto ley: Law decree
  • Decreto legislativo: Legislative decree
  • Resolución: Resolution
  • Directiva: Directive

Legal Glossary (in Spanish)

Additional Resources

Acknowledgement

Acknowledgement

The author wants to thank María Fernanda Penagos Forero and Andrea Mateus Rugeles for their valuable input in the creation of this guide.

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