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Brazilian Legal Research

This guide provides an overview of the Brazilian legal system, and covers primary and secondary sources, as well as useful legal terms.

Basic Legal Structure


The Federative Republic of Brazil (hereinafter Brazil) is a democratic country, which is composed of 26 states and a federal district. The federal government is divided into three branches: executive, legislative, and judiciary. Its economy is diversified and subject to free-market rules

Brazil follows the civil law tradition where rules are written. Codes and statutes are passed by Congress. Courts apply them to support their decisions.

Brazil has a presidential system; the President is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, head of state, and the government.

The President is directly elected by the people for a term of four (4) years. One consecutive re-election is allowed.

Court Structure

Like the US, the Brazilian judiciary has two different sets of courts: federal and state courts, being the Supreme Federal Court the highest court of its legal system. The federal organization of justice as well as the jurisdiction of federal courts are established in the federal Constitution. Instead, the states organize their justice systems and jurisdiction in their own Constitutions.

By hierarchy, ordinary courts at the federal level can be organized as follows:

  1. Supremo Tribunal Federal (Supreme Federal Tribunal)
  2. Superior Tribunal de Justiça (Superior Tribunal of Justice)
  3. Tribunais Regionais Federai (Federal Regional Tribunals)
  4. Juízes Federais (Federal Judges)

Special Jurisdictions

Labor, military, and electoral matters are litigated before specialized courts, but they are subordinated to the Supreme Federal Court.

Legal Hierarchy

The legal hierarchy of federal laws is as follows:

  1. Federal Constitution and constitutional amendments (Constituição e emendas constitucionais) / Human rights treaties approved according to art. 5 paragraph 3 of the federal Constitution
  2. Complementary statutes  (Leis complementares) / Ordinary statutes (Leis ordinárias) / Delegated acts (Leis delegadas) / Provisional measures (Medidas provisórias) / General treaties / Legislative decrees (Decretos legislativos) Resolutions of Congress (Resoluções do Congresso Nacional)
  3.  Regulations (Regulações)

Official Gazette

The federal official gazette is "Diário Oficial da União". This daily publication contains constitutional amendments, codes, statutes, regulations, among others, enacted at the federal level. On the other hand, each Brazilian state has its official gazette.



The current federal Constitution was adopted in 1988, and since then it has been amended. The Constitution is written in Portuguese, the official language in Brazil.




To pass a federal law, it must be approved by both houses of Congress (the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies), with the sanction of the President of Brazil.

Codes are organized statutes covering a specific subject matter. Some of the most relevant ones are the Civil Code (Código Civil) and the Civil Procedural Code (Código de Processo Civil).

Government Databases

Legal Subscription Databases



Federal regulations have a lower hierarchy than statutes, codes, and treaties. They are classified by their nature and number.

Case Law

Case Law

Brazilian law follows decisions issued by the Supreme Federal Court named "súmulas vinculantes. They follow reiterated judicial decisions on constitutional matters, and have a binding effect at the federal and state levels (art. 103-A federal Constitution).

To discuss a case before the Supreme Federal Court, it shall raise a relevant constitutional question with general repercussions (i.e. significant impact in the socioeconomic arena). 

Government Databases

Other Databases

Secondary Sources


Legal Terms

Portuguese-English legal terms

A few Portuguese-English legal terms:

  • Constituição: Constitution

  • Decreto Legislativo: Legislative decree

  • Emenda à Constituição: Constitutional amendment

  • Lei: Statute

  • Lei complementar: Complementary statute

  • Lei ordinária: Ordinary statute

  • Medida provisória: Provisionary measure

  • Regulação: Regulation

  • Tratado internacional: International treaty

Legal Glossary (in Portuguese)

Additional Resources

Legal Research Guides & Encyclopedias

To learn more about how to use  Foreign Law Guide, Globalex, and World Legal Information Institute, please watch this instructional video:

General Reference Resource



The author would like to express his deepest gratitude to Fredys Orlando Sorto, Pedro de Hollanda Dionisio, and Renata Vargas Amaral for their feedback to enrich the content of this research guide. 



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