Supreme Court of Spain

Supreme Court of Spain
Tribunal Supremo
Spanish Judiciary Badge-Supreme Court Magistrate.svg
Tribunal Supremo Logotipo
Tribunal Supremo, Madrid.jpg
Badge of the Supreme Court Judges
LocationConvent of the Salesas Reales, Madrid
Composition methodAppointed by Monarch on selection by the General Council of the Judiciary
Authorized byConstitution of Spain
Judge term lengthAppointed for life until retired at 70
No. of positions79 (in 2017, may change by Act of Parliament)
WebsitePortal del Tribunal Supremo
President of the Supreme Court
CurrentlyCarlos Lesmes Serrano
SinceDecember 2013
Vice President of the Supreme Court
CurrentlyÁngel Juanes Peces
Since8 January 2014

The Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo, TS) is the highest court in the Kingdom of Spain. Originally established pursuant to Title V of the Constitution of 1812 and currently regulated by Title VI of the Constitution of 1978, it has original jurisdiction over cases against high-ranking officials of the Kingdom and over cases regarding illegalization of political parties. It also has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all cases. The Court has the power of judicial review, although due to the existence of a Constitutional Court, this power is limited to norms with lower rank than the law and only to norms passed by nation-wide administrations.

As set in the Judiciary Organic Act of 1985, the Court consists of the President of the Supreme Court and of the General Council of the Judiciary, the Vice President of the Supreme Court, the Chairpersons of the Chambers and an undetermined number of Magistrates. Each Magistrate of the Supreme Court is nominated by the General Council of the Judiciary and appointed by the Monarch for a lifetime tenure up to the age of 70, when they must retire (unless they ask for a 2 years extension).

The Court meets in the Convent of the Salesas Reales in Madrid. The security of the buildings and personnel of the Supreme Court is entrusted to the Supreme Court Special Commissariat, a unit of the National Police Corps.


The Supreme Court is the court of last resort and can provide finality in all legal issues. It can exercise original jurisdiction over matters of great importance but usually functions as an appellate court able to investigate procedural irregularities arising from actions in the national courts or Provincial courts. It can order ordinary and extraordinary remedies against decisions of lower courts according to the provisions of Spanish law.

The Supreme Court is responsible for processing substantial complaints of wrongdoing against prominent persons such as government ministers, senators representatives and members of the various regional parliaments, senior judges, including the President and judges of the Constitutional Court, the highest tribunal in the country.

It also processes formal applications by the procurator (public prosecutor) to outlaw political parties,

Generally, there is no avenue of appeal against a Supreme Court decision although in criminal matters, the Crown may exercise the prerogative of mercy to invalidate sentences imposed or ratified by the Supreme Court, but constitutionally, such appeals are resolved by the Council of Ministers and then formalized by the monarch, as head of state.

Supreme Court decisions may, exceptionally, be overruled by the Constitutional Court if there has been an infringement of rights and freedoms of citizens embodied in the Spanish Constitution of 1978 or by decisions emanating from the European Court of Human Rights since Spain is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights.

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Constitutional Status[]

The Supreme Court is one of the three branches of the Spanish government, alongside the legislature and the executive

To ensure its independence, the Supreme Court has the prerogative to enforce its actions under the principle of obedience to final judicial decisions enshrined in the Constitution. Also, most its resolutions are reliable since they are solutions to appeal against the considered decisions of lower courts.

The Supreme Court is the only entity that can order the detention of members of its own judiciary or the legislature or executive authorities and then impeach them according to the additional civil and criminal obligations, which, by law, it must discharge diligently in the performance of their official duties.

Peer review is provided by the General Council of the Judiciary, a panel of senior Supreme Court judges that monitors the Supreme Court practice and operation, but the decisions of this Council are advisory and may be annulled by due process in a Supreme Court action.


Size of the court[]

Neither the Constitution of 1812 or the current Spanish Constitution does specify the number of justices. The Supreme Court of Justice Act of 1814 established a high court consisting on 16 "ministers" distributed in three rooms.[1] This act hardly took effect due to the restoration of absolutism in 1814, although it was in force between 1820 and 1823. In 1834, it was restored with the name of Supreme Court of Spain and Indies and it was established the same composition.[2] In 1864, the Court was divided into two chambers and the number of magistrates grow up to 25.[3]

In 1868, it was created the Third Chamber to know the issues related to the public administrations (administrative law).[4] In 1870 the number of magistrates grow again to 33 distributed in four chambers; one for civil cases, two for criminal cases and one for administrative cases. Between 1875 and 1904 the administrative jurisdiction was transferred to the Council of State.

In 1931, the Republic divided the Court in six chambers: First Chamber for Civil Law, Second Chamber of Criminal Law, Third and Fourth Chambers for Administrative Law, Fifth Chamber for Laboral Law and Sixth Chamber for Military Law, and the number of magistrates was up to 40.[5][6] In the current democratic period, the Court is divided in five chambers and neither the Constitution or the Organic Judiciary Act specifies the number of magistrates. According to 2017 data, the Court was composed by 79 magistrates.[7]

Nomination and appointment[]

The Constitution does not regulates the form of appointment of the magistrates although it does regulate the procedure of appointment of the President of the Court. According to Section 123, the President is nominated by the General Council of the Judiciary and appointed by the Monarch. The Judiciary Organic Act of 1985 copy this procedure of appointment but specifies that the Royal Decree must to be countersigned by the Minister of Justice.

To be candidate for Magistrate of the Supreme Court the law establishes two options:


The tenure of the Magistrates of the Supreme Court is regulated in Section 386 of the Judiciary Organic Act and it establishes a life tenure. However, the law also established that the magistrates must to retire at the age of 70. However, the law allow the magistrates to ask the General Council of the Judiciary an extension of their tenure until the age of 72. The Magistrates can freely retire since the age of 65.

Outside of these cases, magistrates shall be forcedly retired when there is a permanent disability for the exercise of their functions. The forced retire can be requested by the Prosecution Ministry or the magistrate itself to the Governing Council of the Supreme Court or to the Governing Council of an specific chamber. After this, the Governing Council shall send the request to the GCJ and the Council shall approve the retire.


The Supreme Court is divided into five chambers, each dealing with a specific areas of Spanish law that may affect ordinary citizens and four special chambers dealing with state issues.

  1. First Chamber of Civil Law
  2. Second Chamber of Criminal Law
  3. Third Chamber of Contentious-Administrative law (judicial court dealing with issues related to the activity of the public powers, administrative law)
  4. Fourth Chamber of Labour law
  5. Fifth Chamber of Military Law
Supreme Court of Spain

Presidents of the Chambers[]

Governing bodies[]

In subordination to the General Council of the Judiciary, the Supreme Court's governing bodies are responsible for hearing and resolving administrative issues that may arise:

Management bodies[]

List of presidents of the Supreme Court[]

See also[]


  1. ^ "1814-03-13 Reglamento del supremo tribunal de justicia.pdf". Google Docs. Retrieved 2019-06-21.
  2. ^ "Royal Decree replacing the Council of Castile by the Supreme Court" (PDF).
  3. ^ "Ley relativa á la división en dos Secciones de la Sala primera del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia" (PDF).
  4. ^ "Decreto creando en el Tribunal Supremo de Justicia y en las Audiencias una Sala que decidirá sobre las cuestiones contencioso-administrativas" (PDF).
  5. ^ "Decreto reorganizando el Tribunal Supremo en la forma que se indica" (PDF).
  6. ^ "Decreto determinando la jurisdicción de los Tribunales de Guerra y Marina" (PDF).
  7. ^ Álvarez, Javier (2017-01-26). "El Supremo suma una magistrada más entre 70 hombres". Cadena SER (in Spanish). Retrieved 2019-06-21.

External links[]