The Salvadoran legal and regulatory system, as in every system in Latin America, is based on the civil law. This law coded system is constantly being updated, between substantive laws that regulate and determine people´s rights in every jurisdiction, such as the civil, commercial, criminal, etc. and procedural laws that establish a mechanism and the policies under which every matter should be disputed.
The Legal System in El Salvador has evolved after being under an inquisitorial model mainly in the public order matters, but also in specific aspects of the private order, in which the figure of the judge was the one who pursued the truth and directed the investigation. Nowadays, the Salvadoran law is determined by an adversarial model, in which the parts involved in the dispute know the facts and the judge knows the law, this means the judge, acting in an impartial manner, con only evaluate the provided evidence by the parts to make a decision.
Nowadays, the public and private order matters are regulated by a process managed, primarily through a combination of written arguments and a system of oral hearings, which has accelerated the finalization of judicial processes.
The Salvadoran judicial system is organized by one of the three branches of the government, the Judicial Organ, integrated by a superior organ, La Corte Suprema de Justicia (the Supreme Court of Justice), composed by four Chambers.
La Sala de lo Constitucional (The Constitutional Chamber), the only court in the state that is capable of deciding in matters of: a) protections, procedures for human´s rights violations of persons, natural or juridical, by any authority; b) Violation of the Constitution, of any law, decree or ruling; and c) Habeas Corpus or personal exhibitions, this means specific violations that affect the freedom and mobility of persons, in this case, this processes can also be requested in La Cámara de Segunda Instancia (the Second Instance Chamber) in a criminal matter, outside the capital.
A second Chamber in La Corte Suprema de Justicia (Supreme Court of Justice) is La Sala de lo Civil (the Civil Chamber), the superior Court in civil, commercial, family, housing, labor and small claims matters. It is in the Civil Chamber where appeals are handled against any illegalities committed against the processes of the matters mentioned before. This Chamber acts, as well, as an Appeal Chamber when the State has been sued in a Civil Chamber, acting in a role of first-instance court.
A third Chamber, the Criminal Chamber, resolves over the appeals (irregularities in the process and not in the assessment of evidence, for it is not a third-instance court) in criminal matters.
Finally, we have the Administrative Litigation Chamber, this one recognizes, in a one-instance only, the acts committed by government officials in their administrative role or the administrative bodies of the three branches of the State. This chamber also resolves, among others, the first-instance appeals of Administrative-Litigation matters.
Under the Chambers are the second-instance divisions, distributed across the country, with territorial competence determined by the law. These divisions may be divided into seven types of matters: a) The criminal division; b) the civil division, competent in civil, commercial, housing and minor claims matters; c) the family division; d) the Litigation-Administrative division; e) the labor division; f) the environment division; g) the mixed division, with knowledge over all of the matters mentioned before. These divisions have a general knowledge of the different appeals in the first-instance courts and exceptionally, some processes in the first-instance.
Under the divisions, we have the first-instance courts distributed across the whole territory, and classified under different matters: commerce and civil, criminal, labor, family, litigation-administration, minor claims, transit, environmental, juvenile justice, children´s and adolescents´ courts, organized crime courts, and expiration of ownership courts. Most of them divide their competences according to the litigation quantity.
Finally, we have the court of peace, distributed across the 262 municipalities in the country. They have a primary function in the Attorney General´s requirements for criminal processes, but also hold functions in conciliatory and resolution matters of different proceedings.
In the case of Court filings and proceedings, generally, trial records are open in case any attorney, even when they are not part of the process or the case, wants to consult them. In most oral hearings, the general public is allowed to assist and listen to the procedure, without having to prove they have a type of interest in the results.
There are a few cases, though, where the judges may authorize the reservation of the information, this is common in public order matters, such as criminal or juvenile justice cases where the information may affect the honor and integrity of minors or women. When this happens, only the procurators and the involved parts have access to the trial records, and the hearings are restricted to the general public and the media.
Now, for the private order matters, if it is requested by the involved parts or if the judge considers it necessary, the hearings and trial records may be restricted from the media for national security reasons, moral reasons or the privacy protection of one of the parts.
For any person to appear in a court, in the role of plaintiff or defendant, and in any instance, it is legally demanded that they do it through their procurator, who must be an authorized attorney in the Supreme Court of Justice. In order to be authorized as a lawyer of the Republic of El Salvador it is necessary to have a license in legal sciences from a Salvadoran university.
In case the attorney holds a title from an international university, they must validate this in the Ministerio de Educación (the Ministry of Education); afterwards, they must present to the Supreme Court of Justice multiple documentation regarding their conduct and background information. After meeting the different requirements, the attorney may be authorized as a prosecutor of the Republic of El Salvador. If they don’t go through this process, they are not allowed to represent any of the parts involved in a judicial process.