Argentine Legal System and Structure




Introduction Political Parties
Geography and Culture The Court System
Highlights of Argentine History Civil Law
Constitution Criminal Law
Government Structure Human Rights Law

Introduction

    The purpose of this website is to provide an overview of the Argentine Legal System and Structure.  The topics covered on this website include Argentina's geography and culture, history, Constitution, government structure, political parties, court system, civil law, criminal law, and human rights law.  The following paragraph provides an overview of what will be covered in more detail on this website.
    The legal system of Argentina is a mixture of US and Western European legal systems.  Argentina is a civil law country.  Their legal system is more inquisitorial than adversarial in comparison to the United States Legal System.  Their laws are stated in detailed Codes.  Argentina's Constitution, like that of most Latin American countries, is very long and explicit in comparison to the US Constitution.  The government structure is very similar to the United States.  There is an Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branch of government.  There are 23 provinces and the Federal Capital (Buenos Aires).  The 23 provinces are autonomous, but not as autonomous as the states in the United States system of government.  There are three main political parties in Argentina.  There are two court systems, the Federal Court System and the Provincial Court System, similar to the U.S. Federal and State Court Systems.  A Civil Code governs Civil Law, and a Criminal Code governs Criminal Law.  Unlike the United States, there are no jury trials in Argentina.  The judge plays an important and active role in the Argentine Legal System.  Human Rights violations were a problem for Argentina in the past, but the current government generally has a good track record on human rights, although Amnesty International has reported that problems, especially within the police and prison system, do exist.
 


Geography and Culture

    Argentina is South America’s second-largest country, and the world’s eight-largest country.  It covers an area of 1,068,302 square miles and borders Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay.  With glaciers and blue-green lakes in the south, the rugged Andes Mountains in the west, and Iguazu Waterfalls in the northeast, Argentina has many breathtaking sights to explore.  From Patagonia, to the rich plains of the Pampas, to cosmopolitan Buenos Aires, Argentina is as diverse as it is naturally beautiful.
    The capital of Argentina is Buenos Aires.  Buenos Aires is a lot like many European cities, and is often called the Paris of South America.  Over a third of Argentina’s 37 million people reside in Buenos Aires.  Whether its the tango, its famous beef , mate (a Paraguayan tea), or watching Diego Maradona (the most famous Argentine since Che Guevara) play soccer, Argentina has a rich culture that every person should experience.
    Spanish is the official language of Argentina.  Italian and English are also widely understood.  The literacy rate is 94%, one of Latin America’s highest.  About 85% of the population is of European origin.  Roman Catholicism is the state religion and Roman Catholics make up more than 92% of the population.
    Having had the unique opportunity of studying law in Buenos Aires while living with an loving Argentine family, I was able to learn about a new culture and legal system, and meet a lot of really nice people.

Highlights of Argentine History

    Indians and nomadic people lived and worked the Argentine land.  In the sixteenth century, the Spaniards began arriving and Argentina became a Spanish colony.  In 1816, Argentina declared independence from Spain.  Argentina experienced periods of internal political conflict between conservatives and liberals throughout the 18th century.  The first free general election occurred in 1928. After this, clashes between the military and civilians sent Argentina into a period of continuous economical, political, and social crisis.
    Juan Peron became president in 1946.  With his equally popular and charismatic wife Evita at his side, he strengthened the economy by encouraging domestic industrialization and economic independence.  He appealed to the working class who distrusted foreign capital, and benefited from improved wages, pensions, job security and working conditions.  A 1955, due to economic difficulties, a military coup led led by Juan Manuel de Rosas overthrew the government.  This led to three decades of military dictatorship rule.  Peron went into exile, wandering to several countries before settling in Spain.  Peron’s opportunity to return came in 1973 after Peronist Hector Campora won the presidency.  Campora’s early resignation brought new elections.  Peron won the presidency hands down.  But Peron died the next year, in 1974.  The country was in chaos.  The people allowed Isabella Peron, Peron's third wife, to inherit the presidency.  She was not democratically elected nor did she become president under the laws of the Constitution.  She tried to continue the economic prosperity that prevailed under the leadership of her husband but she was unable to hold the different political parties in the country together.
    In 1976, the military, under General Videla, overthrew Isabella in a bloodless coup and instituted what is know today as Argentina’s Dirty War (1976-83).  Thousands of innocent people died or disappeared.  People were detained, tortured, and killed, without legal process.  In 1981, General Viola replaced Videla as de facto president, and General Galtieri soon replaced Viola.
    In 1982, Argentina invaded the British-ruled Falkland Islands (which Argentina calls the Islas Malvinas) off the coast of Argentina.  Argentina had claimed the Malvinas for 150 years.  General Galtieri believed the invasion would instill a sense of nationalism in Argentineans and did not expect Great Britain to mount much resistance.  He was wrong.  Great Britian sent battleships and soldiers to the Falkland Islands and put up a strong fight.  Argentina soon surrendered and the military withdrew from government.
    In 1983 democracy returned to Argentina.  Argentines elected Raul Alfonsin as president.  Alfonsin pledged to try military officers for human rights violations during the Dirty War.  Attempts to try junior officers led to military discontent and a law that barred prosecutions of those who had been following orders.
    In 1989 Argentines elected Carlos Menem as president.  Menem, a prisoner during the Dirty War, pardoned General Videla and top military officers.  Menem instituted major economic changes in Argentina- selling off nationalized industries, opening the economy to foreign investment and, in 1991, pegging the peso to the US dollar.  Although these measures tamed inflation, they also led to rising unemployment and a prolonged recession.  Menem has been accused of being corrupt, particularly in regard to the privatization of state enterprises.  He is currently under house arrest pending trial for funneling arms (rifles, cannons, shells, and gunpowder) to Croatia and Ecuador from 1991 through 1995 while Argentina was bound by international argeements that enforced arms embargos on both nations.
    On December 10, 1999 Argentines elected Fernando De La Rua as President.  Argentina plunged into economic and politcal turmoil in December 2001 when it defaulted on a US $132 billion loan repayment- the largest default in history.  On the verge of economic collapse after a three-year recession and amid widespread civil chaos which killed 27 people, Fernando De La Rua resigned as President in December 2001.  After five Presidents in just two week, Eduardo Duhalde beacme the President of Argentina on January 1, 2002.  One of Duhalde's first moves was to unpeg the peso from the dollar.  The peso fell to less than half the value of the US dollar over night.  The peso is currently (as of 4/16/02) down about 68% since January's devaluation.

For more information on this subject, see:
The CIA World Factbook-Argentina (Interesting Facts about Argentina) (In English)
The President of Argentina's Homepage (In Spanish)
A Comparison of Argentine and English Legal Culture , by Gabriel Ganon (In English)
 

Argentina's Constitution

    Argentina adopted a National Constitution (Constitucion de la Nacion Argentina) in 1853.  It was later revised in 1994.  It is the principle and fundamental source of Argentine law.   The National Constitution is divided into two parts, preceded by a Preamble.  The Preamble is a declaration of purposes and goals.  The first part is a declaration of civil, social, and political rights and guaranties.  The second part deals with the organization of the federal government.
    The main source used to help draft the Argentine Constitution was the American Constituion.  The Argentine Constitution does not have a bill of rights like the American Constitution, but the main features of the Argentine Constitution are similar to the United States Constitution- power separation, a Congress made up by a Senate and a House of Representatives, a presidential executive power, a Supreme Court and lower courts, and implied rights and constitutional guarantees.  The Constitution entitles the Congress to enact the Codes concerning civil, commercial, criminal, mineral, labor and social security matters.

For more information on this subject, see:
Argentina's National Constitution    (in English)
 

Government Structure

    Argentina has three levels of government- federal, provincial, and local.  Each province has its own legislation, including provincial constitutions, laws, and resolutions, elects its own governor and legislators, and appoints its own judges without the federal government’s interference.  The Federal Government consists of the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branches.
    The Executive Branch consists of the President, Vice President, and the President’s cabinet.  The President is both the chief of state and head of government.  The President and Vice President are both elected by popular vote for four-year terms.  The President appoints the cabinet.  The President and Vice President are limited to two consecutive terms, but are allowed to stand for a third term or more after an interval of at least one term.  The constitution grants the president considerable power, including the right to enact orders or regulations and gives him/her line item veto power.
    The Legislative Branch rests its power in a National Congress (Congresso Nacional), which consists of a Chamber of Senators (Camara de Senadores) and a Chamber of Deputies (Camara de Diputados).  The Senate has 72 seats and senators are elected for six-year terms.  There is direct election and there are three senators elected from each province.  The third senator represents the electoral district’s largest minority party.  The Chamber of Deputies has 257 seats and members are elected for four-year terms.  Members are elected through a system of proportional representation.
    The Judicial Branch is a separate and independent branch of government.  It consists of the Supreme Court (Corte Suprema) and several specialized lower Federal courts.  There are nine justices on the Supreme Court.  The President appoints them with approval by the Senate.  The Supreme Court has the power to declare legislative acts unconstitutional.  The specialized lower Federal courts are grouped according to the nature of the issue.  There are civil, criminal, labor, administrative, family, and commercial courts.  The president, upon recommendation by the magistrates’ council, appoints lower Federal court judges.

For more information on this subject, see:
Argentine Law of the Government Ministries (In Spanish) (click on Servicios Gratuitos and then Ley de Ministerios)
Argentine Law, It's Origin and Present Time (In English)
The Jurist: Argentina (In English)
Argentina Government Links (In English and Spanish)
 

Political Parties

    There are 22 political parties in the National Congress.  The main political parties are the Peronists or Justicialist Party (Partido Justicialista-PJ), the Radical Civic Union (Union Civica Radical-UCR), and the Front for a Country in Solidarity (Frente de Pais Solidario).  The latter two sometimes form an electoral alliance called the Alliance (Alianza).  The Peronists are conservative and personalists, the Radicals are centrist, and the Front for a Country is Solidarity are progressive.  Carlos Menem is a Peronist, Fernando De La Rua is a Radical, and the current president, Eduardo Duhalde, is a Peronist.  More details concerning the parties stances on specific issues can be found at the link below.

For more information on this subject, see:
Argentine Political Parties (in Spanish)
Elections in Argentina (in English)

The Court System

Federal Court System

    The Court System of Argentina consists of Federal and Provincial court systems.  Federal courts include the Supreme Court, 17 appellate courts, and district and territorial courts on the local levels. The Federal Court System hears cases concerning the National Government or any of its agencies, conflicts involving two or more provinces, matters involving foreign people or companies, and certain alleged violations of individual Constitutional rights.  There are certain district courts that have judges that handle administrative matters.
    The Attorney General and the Official Defender are the heads of the Public Ministry, the public agency that oversees the court system.  The Attorney General acts as the plaintiff of the Federal State and defender of its interests.  The Official Defender guarantees every citizen the right to counsel if you request counsel or if the law requires you be given counsel (for example, minors or handicapped people).  Prosecutors and defenders work for the Attorney General and Public Defender.

Provincial Court System

    Each province has its own judicial court system.  The provincial court system consists of supreme, appellate, and lower courts.  There are three main types of courts in the provincial system- civil, criminal, and labor courts. The Provincial Supreme Courts or Superior Tribunals of Justice consist of three to nine members, depending on the province.
    In labor courts, matters dealing with labor conflicts are resolved.  There is a rebuttable presumption in favor of the worker.  In most provinces the parties must complete a prior conciliatory stage before going to trial.  Trials in the labor courts are mostly oral proceedings.  The decision can be appealed to the Provincial Supreme Court or Superior Tribunal of Justice.

For more information on this subject, see:
Guide to Law Online:Argentina (several links in English and Spanish on the Argentine Court System)
FindLaw: Argentina (several links in English and Spanish on the Argentine Court System)
 

Civil Law

    In 1871 Argentina's Congress enacted the Argentine Civil Code.  The Civil Code encompasses all matters concerning argreements, obligations, property, domestic law, and successions.
    Civil issues are decided in Civil Courts.  A judge decides all civil cases.  Judges at the trial level court usually specialize in special areas- family law, property law, business law, juvenile law, or bankruptcy law.  The losing party may make an appeal to the second-level court, the Civil Court of Appeal (Camaras Civiles de Apelacion).  The Civil Court of Appeal consists of three judges who must come to a conclusion by a majority (at least two).  The moving party must submit a written brief in support of their appeal.  A party may appeal to the Supreme Court or Provincial Supreme Court/Superior Tribunal of Justice in limited circumstances.  This appeal procedure is called revocation (casacion).

For more information on this subject, see:
Argentine Civil Code (In Spanish) (click on Servicios Gratuitos and then Codigo Civil)
Argentine Civil Procedure and Commerical Code (In Spanish) (click on Servicios Gratuitos and then Codigo Procesal Civil y Comercial de la Nacion)
Guide to the Argentine Executive, Legislative and Judicial System (in English)
 

Criminal Law

    Criminal matters are decided in Criminal Courts (Camaras del Crimen).  The criminal trial is divided into two stages.  First, a single judge decides whether there are enough reasons and evidence so that the Criminal Court can judge a person.  If she decides there is enough reasons and evidence, a three-judge court decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.  Trials in Criminal Court are mostly oral proceedings.  This is to ensure a fast and fair trial.
    In criminal courts, judges at the trial level court are called criminal or instruction judges.  Criminal Courts have a Court Prosecutor (Fiscal de Camara). The prosecutor plays an important role in the provincial criminal court system.  In some provinces, the judge investigates the case, and in other provinces, the prosecutor investigates the case along with the judge.  The decisions of the Criminal Courts can be appealed to the Supreme Court or Provincial Supreme Court/Superior Tribunal of Justice.  This appeal procedure is also called revocation (casacion).

For more information on this subject, see:
Argentine Penal Code (In Spanish) (click on Servicios Gratuitos and then Codigo Penal)
Guide to the Argentine Executive, Legislative and Judicial System (in English)
 

Human Rights Law

    The Constitution expressly provides for fundamental human rights such as equality before the law, personal liberty, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and the right to private property. Argentina is a member of the American Convention on Human Rights and accepts the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.  Argentina has ratified the Rome Treaty and is a member of the International Criminal Court.  Argentina has not accepted compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction.  The current Argentine Government generally respects the human rights of its citizens.  Lengthy pretrial detention is a big problem in Argentina.  The average pretrial detention is from 12 to 18 months.  Police corruption is a problem.  Torture and brutality by police and prison guards is a serious problem.  Prison condition are poor.
    In the summer of 2001, I studied in Argentina at the Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires.  During a day-visit to an Argentine Prison, I was able to view the prison conditions and speak to low-risk level prisoners, one of whom was an American.  The condition of the prison was not that bad, but the parts they showed us were probably the nicer areas.  We talked with older prisoners (career criminals) who were serving long sentences for non-violent crimes, e.g. bank robbery.  Around 70 prisoners resided in one big room (it was like a gymnasium) with bunk beds.  The American prisoner was so happy to see us that he helped lead our tour.  He told us he was Jerry Rice's cousin.  He was a friendly guy.  Later we learned from prison officials that one night, while playing professional basketball in Argentina in the early eighties, he got into an argument with his girlfriend, threw her out the window of their apartment and killed her.

For more information on this subject, see:
Argentine Ministry of Justice and Human Rights (In Spanish)
The Jurist: Argentina (In English)
Amnesty International: Argentina (in English)
 

Conclusion

    In conclusion, the Argentine legal system is a mixture of US and Western European legal systems.  Their laws are stated in detailed Codes and their Constitution is much more detailed and explicit in comparison to the US Constitution.  In many ways, Argentina's government structure and court system are similar to the US government structure and court system.  Due to Argentina's recent political instability and economic collapse, many questions about the future of the rule of law in Argentina remain uncertain.  But by comparing and studying another country's legal system, government, and history, we can become more informed and make better decisions about how to improve our own legal system.
 
 

Argentina's National Constitution    (in Spanish)
Argentina's National Constitution    (in English)

Argentine Civil Code (In Spanish) (click on Servicios Gratuitos and then Codigo Civil)
Argentine Penal Code (In Spanish) (click on Servicios Gratuitos and then Codigo Penal)
Argentine Commerce Code (In Spanish) (click on Servicios Gratuitos and then Codigo de Comercio)
Argentine Aeronautics/Flying Code (In Spanish) (click on Servicios Gratuitos and then Codigo Aeronautico)
Argentine Natural Resources Code (In Spanish) (click on Servicios Gratuitos and then Codigo de Mineria)
Argentine Civil Procedure and Commerical Code (In Spanish) (click on Servicios Gratuitos and then Codigo Procesal Civil y Comercial de la Nacion)

Argentine Labor/Contracts Law (In Spanish) (click on Servicios Gratuitos and then Ley de Contrato de Trabajo)
Argentine Law of the Government Ministries (In Spanish) (click on Servicios Gratuitos and then Ley de Ministerios)
Argentine Law of Administrative Procedure (In Spanish) (click on Servicios Gratuitos and then Ley de Procedimientos Administrativos)
Argentine Consumer Protection Law (In Spanish) (click on Servicios Gratuitos and then Ley de Defensa del Consumidor)

The President of Argentina's Homepage (In Spanish)
Argentine Ministry of Justice and Human Rights (In Spanish)
Argentine Business (Information on setting up a business in Argentina) (In English)
The CIA World Factbook-Argentina (Interesting Facts about Argentina) (In English)