The system of government in Spain takes the form of a parliamentary monarchy. The Constitution was signed by the King of Spain and thus proclaimed on December 27,1978. Articles 1(1) and 1(2) of the Spanish Constitution (herein after referred to as "SC") define it as a democratic and social State of law whose sovereignty belongs to the people. The King is the Head of State and exercises the power conferred to him by Art 56(1) of the SC and other laws. Central State power is divided between the legislative, executive and the judiciary. The SC defines Spain as a unitary and indissoluble State, however, at the same time, by way of Article 2, the principle of autonomy of nationalities and regions is recognized and guaranteed – reflected in the fact that Spain is divided into 17 Autonomous Communities, each with its own Parliament and Government. Therefore, pursuant Article 137 of the SC, Spain has three different levels of Government – Central, Autonomous Community and Municipal (Government).
The King, as the Head of State assumes the highest representation of the Spanish State in international relations, and exercises the functions expressly attributed to him in Article 62 of the SC. The Crown of Spain is hereditary for the successors of H.M Don Juan Carlos I of Borbon and succession of the throne follows the order set out in Article 57 of the SC. The King is the commander of the armed forces, his duties (see Article 62 SC), include, among others, the approval and promulgation of laws, convoking and dissolution of Parliament and the calling of elections (in accordance with the terms specified in the SC) appointing and dismissing the Prime Minister and other Ministers, etc.
Legislative power is vested in the bicameral Spanish Parliament called the Cortes . It comprises of a lower house – the Congress of Deputies (defined in Art. 68 SC) and an upper house – the Senate (defined in Art.69 SC). Both houses are elected on the basis of universal suffrage and hold office for a term of four years, unless dissolved prior to the lapse of their term by the Head of State. The Congress of Deputies is composed of a minimum of 300 and a maximum of 400 Deputies , who are elected based on the system of proportional representation (Art.68 SC). Whereas, the Senate is comprises of 208 senators, four from each province, as well as 49 regional representatives. Both Houses work in Plenary Sessions and in Commissions. The Parliament may delegate questions for review by a Commission, due to the impossibility of each matter being discussed in a Plenary Session. The Commissions which study the questions and proposals have full legislative power in most matters, they can approve bills or proposals of law, although the Plenary Session may require debate and voting on any bill (Art. 72 SC). Constitutional reform, international affairs, organic and basic laws and the State budget must be dealt with by the Plenary Session. The Congress of Deputies holds greater legislative power than the Senate, as the leader of the dominant political party in the lower house will be designated thePrime Minister and serve as the Head of Government. The Prime Minister chooses the Ministers responsible for each portfolio.
The Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers as well as, any other members established by law, together form the Council of Ministers, which holds executive power (Art. 98(1) SC). It is the highest State executive body exercising both policy-making and administrative functions, that is, it directs domestic, foreign, civil and military policy as well as, administration and defense of the State (Article 97 SC). According to Article 108 of the SC, the Government is collectively accountable before the Congress of Deputies. The Congress of Deputies may hold the Government responsible by expressing a vote of no confidence by an absolute majority of votes (Article 113 SC). On his exclusive responsibility, however following deliberation with the Council of Ministers, the Prime Minister may propose to dissolve the Congress of Deputies, the Senate, and the Parliament. The dissolution must be formally decreed by the King in order to be effective (Article 115 SC).
Articles 143 to 158 of the SC defines the status, domain and rights of theAutonomous Communities. Thus, in accordance with Article 2 of the SC, provinces with historical regional unity may accede to self-government and organize themselves into Autonomous Communities. They have the right to issue their own legal provisions and possess their own Statue of Autonomy , which must contain the territorial boundaries of the Community, the name, organization and seat of its institutions and the powers that it assumes. Although the SC does not impose any particular model according to which the Communities must organize their institutions, all of them have followed the model set forth in Article 152 of the SC. This model establishes a Legislative Assembly, which nominates an Executive Council with executive and administrative functions.
Pursuant to Article 87, the legislative process may be initiated by the Government, the Congress of Deputies and the Senate. The Assemblies of the Autonomous Communities may request the Government to adopt a bill or send the proposal of law to the Congress of Deputies delegating a maximum of three members of their Assembly to that Chamber to defend the proposal (as stipulated in Art.87 of the SC). The Government exercises legislative power by the Council of Ministers approving bills and submitting them to the Congress on Deputies, together with an appropriate substantiation. Once a bill has been approved by the Congress of Deputies it is delivered to the Senate, who may disapprove or introduce amendments to the bill, providing reasons for such decision. However, upon receiving the returned bill from the Senate, the Congress of Deputies is not under any obligation to accept the amendments and may nevertheless pass the bill by an absolute majority, or in the case where two months have lapsed since the return of the bill, it may pass it by simple majority. The Congress of Deputies may also express whether or not it accepts the bill by a simple majority of votes (Article 90 of the SC). The Congress of Deputies has full legislative authority to propose and pass bills. Any bill proposed by the Senate must be submitted to the Congress of Deputies. Bills may also be proposed by the popular initiative of 500,000 voters, however, this does not apply to proposals on organic laws, taxation, international affairs and the prerogative of pardon (the requirements of popular initiative are regulated by Organic Law 3/1984, March 26). The bills or proposals of law are discussed at Plenary Sessions and passed over for review by a Commission. The Commission prepares a report on the bill which is further discussed and voted upon in a Plenary Session. Once passed by the Congress of Deputies, the bill must be promulgated by the King in order to become law (Article 91 SC). Decisions of special importance may be submitted for a consultative referendum of all citizens called by the King upon proposal by the Prime Minister and authorized by the Congress of Deputies (Article 92 SC).
The SC establishes and independent judiciary, with judicial power vested exclusively in the courts and tribunals. The judicial system is regulated by Organic Laws stipulating the jurisdiction, organization and functioning of the courts. For jurisdictional purposes the Spanish State is divided into municipalities, judicial districts, provinces and autonomous communities, this division corresponds with the administrative division of the State. Judicial power, however, may not be exercise by the Autonomous Communities. Municipalities in which there is no first instance and examining court, have Courts of Peace in their stead. Judicial districts have courts of first instance and examining courts, criminal courts, administrative courts, labour courts and juvenile courts. Provinces have provincial courts and each Autonomous Community has a High Court of Justice. The Supreme Court (highest court) and the National Court have jurisdiction over the entire territory of the Spanish State. Appeals may be lodged against a decision of the lower courts, with the Supreme Court as the last instance of appeal. The Constitution also establishes the General Council of the Judiciary, which is a body composed of twenty members and responsible for supervising the judicial system. The General Council appoints judges and maintains ethical standards within the legal profession.
The Spanish Constitutional Courtis established by the SC (see Arts.159 to 165). The Constitutional Court is not part of the general court system, it is governed by its own rules and regulations and it is the supreme interpreter of the Spanish Constitution. The Constitutional Court is composed of twelve members, of which four are nominated by the Congress of Deputies, four by the Senate (by a three-fifths majority decision), two by the Government and two by the General Council of the Judiciary (Article 159(1) SC). Members of the Constitutional Court are chosen from amongst magistrates, prosecutors, university professors, public officials and lawyers, all having at least fifteen years practice in their profession. A Constitutional Court judge is seated at the bench for nine years and the composition of the Court is rotated and renewed every three years by thirds.
The Spanish legal system is a civil law system. Sources of law are stipulated in the Civil Code (and , for historical reasons, not by the SC). It is a system of written law, with customary law only applicable by a judge and general principles of law constituting the basic rules reflecting the convictions of the community. Decisions handed down by the Supreme Court are considered a complementary source of interpretation and application of the law. The decision of a lower court may be appealed against if it is not in conformity with case law established by the Supreme Court in the same matter, in at least two judgments.
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