THE BRAZILIAN LEGAL SYSTEM
The Brazilian legal system is based on Civil Law tradition. The Federal Constitution, in force since October 5th, 1988, is the supreme rule of the country and is the characterized by its rigid written form. The Constitution organizes the country as a Federative Republic, formed by the indissoluble union of the states and municipalities and of the Federal District. The 26 federate states have powers to adopt their own Constitutions and laws; their autonomy, however, is limited by the principles established in the Federal Constitution.
Municipalities also enjoy restricted autonomy as their legislation must follow the dictates of the Constitution of the state to which they belong, and consequently to those of the Federal Constitution itself. As for the Federal District, it blends functions of federate states and of municipalities, and its equivalent to a constitution, named Organic Law, must also obey the terms of the Federal Constitution.
The powers of the Union, as defined within the Constitution, are the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary, which are independent and harmonious amongst themselves. The head of the Executive is the President of the Republic, which is both the Chief of State and the Head of Government and is directly elected by the citizens. The Legislative, embedded in the form of National Congress and consists of two houses: The Chamber of Deputies (lower house) and the Federal Senate (upper house), both constituted by representatives who are elected by the citizens. The Judicial powers are vested upon the Federal Supreme Court, the Superior Court of Justice, the Regional Federal Courts and Federal Judges. There are also specialized courts to deal with electoral, labor and military disputes.
The Judiciary is organized into federal and state branches. Municipalities do not have their own justice systems, and must, therefore, resort to state or federal justice systems, depending on the nature of the case. The judicial system consists of several courts. The apex is the Federal Supreme Court and is the guardian of the Constitution. Among other duties, it has exclusive jurisdiction to: (i) declare federal or state laws unconstitutional; (ii) order extradition requests from foreign States; and (iii) rule over cases decided in sole instance courts, where the challenged decision may violate the Constitution.
The Superior Court of Justice is responsible for upholding federal legislation and treaties. The five Regional Federal Courts, have constitutional jurisdiction on cases involving appeals towards the decision ruled by federal judges, and are also responsible for cases of national interest and crimes foreseen in international pacts, among other duties. The jurisdiction of the Federal Judges include: being responsible for hearing most disputes in which one of the parties is the Union (State); ruling on lawsuits between a foreign State or international organization and a municipality or a person residing in Brazil; and judging cases based on treaties or international agreements of the Union against a foreign State or international body.
State-level justice in Brazil consists of state courts and judges. The states of Brazil organize their own judicial systems, with court jurisdiction defined in each state constitution, observing that their legal scope is limited by those that do not concern the federal judicial ordainment.
The legislative process begins, in broad terms, with a bill of law in one of the Congress Houses – either the Chamber of Deputies or the Federal Senate, thus called the Originating House. Once the bill is voted, it can either be rejected or forwarded to the other house, which is then called Reviewing House. There the bill can be rejected, approved or amended to be then returned to the Originating House. Depending on the object of the bill, it is forwarded for the presidential sanction or veto, as a whole or in part. If the bill is vetoed, the members of the National Congress can override such veto.
The Federal Constitution lists the forms of legal provisions, the most important of which are: (i) Amendments to the Constitution, thatconsist of changes to the constitutional text; (ii) Supplementary Laws, which supplement the Constitution, by detailing a matter, without interfering with the constitutional text, and are admissible only in cases expressly authorized by the Constitution; (iii) Ordinary Laws, which deal with all subjects, except those reserved to supplementary laws; and (iv) Provisional Measures, which are issued by the President of the Republic in important and urgent situations, with a temporary nature, with the force of law, and must be submitted to the National Congress in order to go through the legislative process. After being examined by the National Congress, they shall be converted into an ordinary law if approved. If rejected, either tacitly or expressly, they lose effectiveness ex tunc, and the National Congress shall regulate the legal relations arisen therefrom.