The Court System
The judicial branch consists of three organs of equal status
and importance: the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ); the Fiscal
Tribunal, which recognizes and resolves controversies arising
between the revenue-collecting administration and the taxpayers and
determines tax obligations; and the Contentious Administrative
Tribunal (TCA), which is primarily responsible for recognizing and
resolving controversies arising in public administration. Located
in Quito, these judicial bodies have jurisdiction over all of the
national territory. Their judges or ministers of justice must be
Ecuadorian citizens by birth, be at least forty years of age, hold
a doctorate in jurisprudence, and have at least fifteen years of
professional experience as a lawyer, judge, or university professor
in jurisprudence. The appointment of the CSJ's sixteen justices is
the constitutional prerogative of Congress.
In practice, Congress and the executive branch have frequently
manipulated the supposedly independent judiciary for political
purposes. Congress appoints the judges of the three judicial organs
to serve four-year terms. If vacancies later arise, these are
filled by the organs themselves until Congress nominates official
replacements. Occasionally, the president may intervene (on his or
her own accord and without any specific constitutional
authorization to do so) in the process of nominating CSJ justices
by presenting a list of candidates, and the Council of State (a
body whose bureaucratic organization and powers are unclear) may
intervene by endorsing the candidates suggested by the president.
At the apex of the court system is the CSJ, consisting of five
chambers of three judges each, as well as the court's president.
When they meet, the members of the five chambers constitute the
plenary tribunal. The tribunal selects the court's president, who
represents the entire judicial branch for a two-year period and may
not be reelected until after five periods have elapsed.
The three judicial organs have certain powers with respect to
reforming the Constitution and initiating legislation. The CSJ may
initiate reforms of the Constitution, and all three judicial organs
may initiate proposals of law. In an arrangement similar to the
"legislative coparticipation" enjoyed by the president, the
justices of the three judicial bodies may meet with Congress or its
Legislative Commissions to intervene, without voting rights, in the
discussion of bills. The CSJ has a very secondary role in
controlling matters of constitutionality. Although any of its
chambers, as well as the Fiscal Tribunal and the TCA, may declare
a law or regulation unconstitutional, the plenary session of the
CSJ must affirm such a declaration, in which case the matter is
reported to the TGC.
The CSJ supervises the superior, lower, and special courts and
prepares regulations to ensure that judicial employees function
properly. The CSJ examines the statistics of the cases submitted
annually by the superior courts, hears or resolves questions raised
by these courts, and suspends or removes lawyers who violate legal
statutes. It also removes criminal, provincial, and cantonal judges
and attorneys for misconduct while in office or for incapacitation.
Finally, it publishes the semiannual Gazeta Legal (Legal
Gazette), as well as the court's diary.
Each province has a Superior Court, whose judges are named by
the CSJ. Within its jurisdiction, each Superior Court nominates
penal, civil, labor, traffic, and tenancy judges, as well as fiscal
agents, public defenders, notaries, registers of property and
merchandise, and other judicial officials. Superior courts have
first-instance jurisdiction in criminal cases involving provincial
governors, mayors, members of electoral tribunals, customs
officials, provincial judges, and police officials. They hear
appeals from lower courts in both criminal and civil cases. They
also resolve questions raised by lower-court judges and supervise
their activities, as well as those of attorneys and notaries
public. In addition, they appoint provincial and cantonal judges
Lower courts included thirty-five criminal and forty-two
provincial courts in the late 1980s. They have first-instance
jurisdiction in civil cases where the amount involved exceeds 8,000
sucres (for the value of
sucre--see Glossary). They must consult
the higher courts on the interpretation of the law. When ordered by
higher courts, lower courts must have representatives visit the
jails in the provinces to hear the complaints of inmates, correct
any abuses caused by prison personnel, and secure the release of
any person arrested or detained in an illegal manner. To be a
provincial judge, a person must be a citizen and a lawyer with
three years of service.
The eighty-seven cantonal courts have jurisdiction in civil
cases where the amount involved is between 200 and 8,000 sucres.
Cantonal judges also may fine political lieutenants (tenentes
políticos), who are responsible for the administration of
justice in each parish (parroquia), for negligence of duty.
Finally, special courts try cases involving juveniles, and labor
The Fiscal Tribunal, consisting of three chambers and nine
judges named by Congress, resolves tax controversies. The TCA,
which consists of two chambers of three judges each who are named
by Congress, resolves controversies originating in the public
administration and monitors the application and fulfillment of the
law by entities of the state and their officials.
The justices of the three judicial organs--CSJ, Fiscal
Tribunal, and TCA--are subject to prosecution by Congress or, in
its recess, the PCL. The Constitution prohibits the judges and
fiscal officials from carrying out leadership functions in the
political parties, or intervening in elections. They are also
prohibited from serving as lawyers or holding other public or
private positions, with the exception of university professorships.
Data as of 1989