Ana Gabriela Verotti Farah

Ana Gabriela Verotti Farah

Staff Writer
The Brazil Business


Overview of the Legal System in Brazil

Ana Gabriela Verotti Farah

Ana Gabriela Verotti Farah

Staff Writer
The Brazil Business


Brazilian Justice System has a big number of courts from different levels of domain and jurisdiction. In this article we will give a brief explanation on each one of them.

Brazil is a Presidential Federal Republic formed by the Union, the states and the municipalities. It follows the 1988 Constitution, the sixth the country has ever had. The Union is divided in the Executive, the Legislative and the Judicial powers, just like Argentina, Australia, Canada, the United States and some other countries.

The Justice activity is independent from the Congress and the President. It's divided in common Federal Justice and specialized Federal Justice, which refer to Labor, Electoral and Military Federal Courts.

Each one of these areas is then divided in two stages of hierarchy which are called instances. A process can be started in the first instance court, where it will get a decision from a judge. Then, it's possible to appeal to a second instance court, contesting the decision made in the first one. A process just finishes when all the possibilities of appeal end.

The Brazilian Judicial power is divided in these courts:

  • Supreme Federal Court – STF

Superior courts:

  • Superior Court of Justice – STJ
  • Superior Labor Court – TST
  • Superior Electoral Court – TSE
  • Superior Militar Court – STM
  • State Courts

Second instance Courts:

  • Regional Labor Courts – TRT
  • Regional Electoral Courts – TRE
  • Regional Federal Courts – TRF

First instance courts:

  • Labor Courts;
  • Electoral Courts;
  • Federal Courts.

Supreme Federal Court – STF (Superior Tribunal Federal)

The Supreme Federal Court is the highest body of the judiciary. It guards the Constitution, being the one responsible for prosecution and judgment of the cases in which is claimed to be a threat or a violation of the constitutional provisions. It consists of 11 ministers from 35 to 65 years old that are notable in the Judicial mean and are nominated by the President of the Republic, after the Senate's approval.

The STF is also the one in power to prosecute and judge its own ministers when they have committed minor and common offenses, as well as the President of the Republic, the vice-president, the members of the National Congress and the General Prosecutor. It also judges the common offenses or crimes of responsibility of the ministers of state, of the Superior Courts and the Brazilian Court of Audit.

The STF's current president is the Minister Joaquim Barbosa.

Superior Courts

Superior Court of Justice – STJ (Superior Tribunal de Justiça)

The STJ is responsible for standardizing the interpretation of the federal law throughout Brazil, minding the constitutional principles and guaranteeing and defending the rule of law. It's also the last instance of the Brazilian Justice for the infraconstitutinal causes (which are the ones that are not described in the Constitution, but in alterations on Constitutional Amendments).

It also judges criminal cases which involve governors of the states and the Federal District plus criminal cases and crimes of responsibility committed by judges of Superior Court and judges of the Federal, Regional, Electoral and Labor Courts, and other authorities It judges habeas corpus that involves these authorities or State Ministers, except when the case is related to the Electoral Justice.

In 2005, the STJ started to be able to analyze the concession of letters rogatory (which are the formal request for obtaining judicial assistance from abroad when there is no treaty or executive agreement) and to prosecute and judge the homologation of foreign sentences, which used to be made by the STF. The STJ consists of 33 ministers who are nominated by the President of Republic after the Senate's approval.

STJ's current president is Minister Felix Fischer.

Superior Labor Court – TST (Tribunal Superior do Trabalho)

The TST's function is to standardize the labor laws in all parts of Brazil. It consists of 27 Ministers who are between the ages of 35 and 65 years, and were nominated by the President of the Republic after the Senate's approval. TST operates through some divisions like the Full Court and the Specialized Sections. It also has three permanent commissions. The TST's current president is the Minister João Oreste Dalazen.

Superior Electoral Court – TSE (Tribunal Superior Eleitoral)

TSE works with the Regional Electoral Courts (TREs) and consists of seven ministers – three from the Supreme Federal Court, two from the Superior Court of Justice and two representatives from the judicial category (lawyers with notable judicial knowledge and aptitude). It regulates the election procedures, guaranteeing that the political power is accomplished by the Brazilian voters. It doesn't control the political parties, but checks them, how they get their financial resources and how they spend it.

The Superior Electoral Court is also responsible for choosing the places where the election will happen, making inspections and providing an accessible environment to all the voters, including the ones with special needs. TST is able to judge potential irregularities in the election, as well as checking the electoral propaganda, among other functions.

The current president of the TSE is the Minister Cármen Lúcia Antunes Rocha.

Superior Militar Court – STM (Superior Tribunal Militar)

The Superior Militar Court is part of the Military Justice, which is responsible for prosecuting and judging military crimes. STM consists of fifteen lifelong ministers that are chosen by the President of Republic after the Senate's approval and indication, being three of them Navy's generals, four Army's generals, three of them Aeronautics' generals and five civil people (three layers and two judges or members of the Military Justice's Public Ministry).

The current president of the STM is the Minister Fleet Admiral Alvaro Luiz Pinto.

State Courts – Justiças Estaduais

The State Court is the one responsible for prosecuting and judging cases of the Judiciary System that aren't subjected to the Labor, Electoral and Military Courts. The State Court covers both civil and criminal areas, where the judges act in the first and second instances. Each state, plus the Federal District, has the power to arrange its own Justice, so its organization varies throughout the country.

The STF (Supreme Federal Court) and the STJ (Superior Court of Justice) have power over the common federal and state Justices. In the first instance, the cases are analyzed by federal or state judges. Appeals are sent to the Federal Regional Courts, the Courts of Justice and the Courts of Appeal, the two final organs of the State Courts

Second instance Courts

Regional Labor Courts – TRT (Tribunal Regional do Trabalho)

The TRTs are part of the Labor Justice in Brazil and were created to reduce the volume of processes in the TST, making the verification of each case faster and avoiding them concentrated in only one place (which would need an enormous infrastructure in order to provide a good service). There are 24 TRTs in Brazil, each one with a certain numbers of judges, covering specific areas of the country:

  • 1st region – Rio de Janeiro – 54 judges
  • 2nd region – São Paulo (encompasses 46 municipalities, including some of the coastal region) – 94 judges
  • 3rd region – Minas Gerais – 36 judges
  • 4th region – Rio Grande do Sul – 36 judges
  • 5th region – Bahia – 29 judges
  • 6th region – Pernambuco 18 judges
  • 7th region – Ceará – 8 judges
  • 8th region – Pará – 23 judges
  • 9th region – Paraná – 28 judges
  • 10th region – Distrito Federal/ Tocantins – 17 judges
  • 11th region – Amazonas – 8 judges
  • 12th region – Santa Catarina – 18 judges
  • 13th region – Paraíba – 8 judges
  • 14th region – Rondônia – 8 judges
  • 15th region – Campinas/SP (encompasses 599 municipalities, representing almost 93% of the State of São Paulo) – 36 judges
  • 16th region – Maranhão – 8 judges
  • 17th region – Espírito Santo – 8 judges
  • 18th region – Goiás – 8 judges
  • 19th region – Alagoas – 8 judges
  • 20th region – Sergipe – 8 judges
  • 21st region – Rio Grande do Norte – 8 judges
  • 22nd region – Piauí – 8 judges
  • 23rd region – Mato Grosso – 8 judges
  • 24th region – Mato Grosso do Sul – 8 judges.

Regional Electoral Courts – TRE (Tribunal Regional Eleitoral)

The TREs are the responsibles for the management of the elections in certain states. The Brazilian Constitution determined that each capital of every state plus Distrito Federal (Federal District) should have one TRE. They consist of seven judges, being four of the from the Justice Court, one from the region where the TRE is located (or, in it's absence, a federal judge) and two nominated by the President of Republic, after being named by the Supreme Federal Court.

While TSE's main duty is to manage the presidential elections, TRE is in charge of the district and regional elections of governors, vice-governors, senators and state and federal deputies. The Regional Courts must make the elections, count the votes, judge processes related to the electoral area and grant the diplomas of the chosen candidates.

Regional Federal Courts – TRF (Tribunais Regionais Federais)

The TRFs were created to substitute the extinguished Tribunal Federal de Recursos, which would be the Brazilian version of the Federal Court of Appeals. TRFs are part of the second instance of the Brazilian Justice System, being responsible for the processes and judgments of the appeals against the decisions made in the first instance.

It is part of the civil ability of the TRF to prosecute and judge the rights of security against acts of federal judges and members of the own TRF, as well as ability conflicts between federal judges or between federal and state judges.

Some of the criminal abilities of this Court are to prosecute and judge the federal judges of each area of jurisdiction, including the ones from Military Justice and from Labor Justice, in the common criminal cases and the cases of responsibility and the habeas-corpus when it's supposed to have been coercion from a federal judge.

TRFs are divided in five regions, that encompasses the following Judiciary Sections:

  • TRF of the 1st Region – Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Bahia, Distrito Federal, Goiás, Maranhão, Mato Grosso, Minas Gerais, Pará, Piauí, Rondônia, Roraima and Tocantins
  • TRF of the 2nd Region – Espírito Santo and Rio de Janeiro
  • TRF of the 3rd Region – Mato Grosso do Sul and São Paulo
  • TRF of the 4th Region – Paraná, Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina
  • TRF of the 5th Region – Alagoas, Ceará, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Rio Grande do Norte e Sergipe.

First instance courts

Labor Courts – Varas do Trabalho

The Labor Court is where the employee or the employer go to when there are complaints. This is the organism responsible for analyzing and judging these complaints. If there's not an agreement in the decision taken by the judge, it's possible to appeal in the Regional Labor Courts.

Electoral Courts – Varas Eleitorais

Varas Eleitorais represent the first instance of the Electoral Justice along with Juntas Eleitorais (Electoral Council). The Electoral Judges act in the Varas Eleitorais. The Juntas Eleitorais are chosen only 60 days before the elections, and are dissolved a few days after it. They are responsible for counting the votes and issuing the diplomas of the chosen candidates.

Federal Courts – Varas Federais

The Federal Judges act in the Varas Federais, which are the first instance of the Federal Justice. If there isn't an agreement between both parts of the judgment, it's possible to appeal in the second instance, which is represented by the TRFs.