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Last update: 01-08-2007
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Organisation of justice - Portugal

Levels of competence


Supreme Court of Justice (1)


Courts of Appeal (5)


Courts of First Instance


The Portuguese Courts - Fundamental principles

  • The Courts are sovereign bodies with competence to administer justice in the name of the people;

  • Their function is to ensure the defence of the legally-protected rights and interests of the citizenry, to redress the violation of democratic legal rights and to settle disputes of public and private interests;

  • The Courts are independent and are subject only to the law;

  • The decisions of the Courts are binding on all public and private entities and they have precedence over those of any other authorities;

  • Everyone has guaranteed access to the Courts for the defence of their legally- protected rights and interests, and justice may not be denied due to insufficient financial means;

  • Everyone is entitled to legal information and advice, to the protection of the Courts, and to be represented by a lawyer before any authority;

  • Everyone is entitled to the case in which they are participating being decided within a reasonable period by means of an equitable process;

  • The Law provides citizens for the defence of rights and liberties and personal guarantees, with legal procedures that are characterised by celerity and priority, in order to provide effective and timely protection in the face of any threat to or violation of such rights;

  • Court hearings are public, except when the court itself, in a well-founded decision, decides otherwise, for the purpose of guaranteeing and safeguarding the dignity of persons and public morals or ensuring their normal operation.

Organisation of the Courts

In addition to the Constitutional Court, the following categories of courts exist:


  1. The Supreme Court of Justice and the judicial courts of first and second instance;
  2. The Supreme Administrative Court and the other administrative and fiscal courts;
  3. The Court of Auditors. Maritime, Arbitration and Magistrates Courts may also exist.

The judicial courts are common courts for civil matters and they exercise jurisdiction in all areas that are not attributed to other judicial jurisdictions.

The Portuguese territory is divided, for the purposes of the administration of Justice, into judicial districts, judicial circuits and judicial regions.

The Supreme Court of Justice is the superior hierarchical body of the judicial courts. Its headquarters are in Lisbon. It consists of civil, criminal and social divisions. It functions under the direction of a President [Presiding Judge], as a full bench of the Court, in specialised divisions and in sections.

The civil sections are competent to try cases that are not allocated to other divisions; the criminal sections try cases of a criminal nature; the social sections try cases for which the Labour Courts have competence.

The Supreme Court of Justice, save in the case of legally enshrined exceptions, only deals with matters of law.

The Courts of Appeal are, as a rule, courts of second instance.

There are one or more Courts of Appeal in each district.

At the present time Courts of Appeal sit in Lisbon, Oporto, Coimbra, Évora and Guimarães.

The Courts of Appeal also include civil, criminal and social divisions with objective competence on a par with that which is indicated in relation to the Supreme Court of Justice.

They function under the direction of a President [Presiding Judge], as a full bench or by divisions.

The judicial courts of first instance are normally the District Courts.

When justified by the volume or nature of the service, several courts can exist within the same district.

The area of competence of the judicial courts is the district. However, courts may exist that have competence in respect of one or more districts or in respect of areas specially defined by law.

Courts of First Instance exist that have specialised and specific competence. Courts with specialised competence deal with specific matters, irrespective of the applicable form of proceeding; Courts having specific competence deal with matters determined according to the applicable type of proceeding; in justified cases, Courts having mixed specialised competence may be created.


The judicial courts may be divided into benches.

In district courts, benches may have generic, specialised or specific competence.

District Courts may be further divided into divisions having specific competence, when this is justified by the volume and complexity of the service.

One or more district judges sit in each court, bench or division.

Two or more judges, appointed by circuit judges, sit in each judicial circuit.

Courts of First instance sit, depending on the cases, as a single court, a collective court or a jury court.

Courts having generic competence have competence in civil and commercial matters, to:

  1. Instruct and hear proceedings relating to cases not attributed to another court;
  2. Comply with the mandates, letters, official communications and telegrams that are referred to them by the competent courts;
  3. Exercise other competences conferred by Law.

The courts having specialised competence in the area of intervention of the European Legal Network in civil and commercial matters, are as follows: Family Courts, Juvenile Courts, Commercial Courts and Maritime Courts.

Courts having specialised competence (pdf 92,7 KB)

Courts having specific competence (pdf 65,9 KB)

Appeals, requests for argument of defects and requests for clarification and modification of judicial decisions (pdf 111 KB)

Fundamental legislation in this area

  • Constitution of the Portuguese Republic (Articles 20 and 202 to 224);
  • Law on the Organisation and Functioning of the Judicial Courts (Law No. 3/99, of 13 January 1999);
  • Regulation of the Law of Organisation and Functioning of the Judicial Courts (Decree-Law No. 186-A/99, of 31 May 1999);
  • Civil Procedure Code (text republished in annex to DL No 329-A/95, of 12-12, with the modifications arising from the following directives: Decree-Law No. 180/96, of 25-9, Decree-Law No. 125/98, of 12-5, Law No. 59/98, of 25-8, Decree-Law No. 269/98, of 1-9, Decree-Law No. 315/98, of 24-10, Law No. 3/99, of 13-1, Decree-Law No. 375-A/99, of 20-9, Decree-Law No. 183/2000, of 10-8, Law No. 30-D/2000, of 20-12 and Law No. 13/2002, of 19.02.).

Useful links

  • Supreme Court of Justice;
  • Ministry of Justice;
  • Constitutional Court português;
  • Court of Appeal at Lisbon português;
  • Court of Appeal at Coimbra português;
  • Court of Appeal at Évora português;
  • Court of Appeal at Oporto português;
  • Attorney General's Office of the Republic português;
  • Centre for Judicial Studies português (organisation responsible for training Portuguese Judges);
  • Directorate-General for the Administration of Justice (it provides, inter alia, information concerning contacts of the courts and their territorial jurisdiction and access to the Court Officials Page);
  • Council of Legislative Policy and Planning of the Ministry of Justice;
  • Directorate-General of Registries and Notaries português;
  • Consumers Association português;
  • Professional Association of Portuguese Judges português;
  • Professional Association of Officers of the Attorney-General's Office português;
  • Lawyers Association português;
  • Online legislation database português; (contains directives and acts published in the I Series of the D.R. since 01-01-1970; provides free access to legislation published in the I Series since 01-01-2000).

« Organisation of justice - General information | Portugal - General information »


Last update: 01-08-2007

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