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.
The ordinary judiciary structure is as follows:
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.
The legal hierarchy of national norms is as follows:
"Diario Oficial" is the official Gazette. It contains the laws, regulations, and other relevant documents issued by the government.
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.
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.
Human rights treaties have the same legal standing as the Constitution. Other international treaties have the same standing as laws.
National regulations are classified according to their nature and number (i.e. decrees, resolutions, and directives). They are promulgated by the executive.
Decisions from the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, and State Council can set precedent, according to the terms established by law.
Some useful legal terms for research:
To learn how to use Foreign Law Guide, Globalex, and World Legal Information Institute, please watch this instructional video:
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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