The judicial branch of government is headed by the Supreme
Court of Justice. The number of magistrates on the Supreme Court
is not stipulated in the Constitution but is determined by other
statutes. Magistrates are required to be Salvadoran by birth,
more than forty years of age, and lawyers who have practiced for
at least ten years or who have served as judges in a chamber of
second instance for six years or on a court of first instance for
nine years. Clergymen are prohibited from serving as magistrates.
The president of the Supreme Court directs the business of the
Supreme Court and functions as the head of the judicial branch.
Magistrates are appointed by the Legislative Assembly to fiveyear terms.
The Supreme Court is divided into three chambers, or
salas. The Constitutional Chamber (Sala de lo
Constitucional), composed of the Supreme Court president and four
other magistrates, rules on the constitutionality of laws and
hears cases involving the invocation of amparo (restraint
against the infringement of an individual's rights) or of habeas
corpus. The remaining chambers of the Supreme Court, the Civil
Chamber and the Criminal Chamber, serve as the last level of
appeal in these legal categories.
Below the Supreme Court are the chambers of second instance,
or courts of appeal. Each chamber is composed of two magistrates,
who hear appeals of decisions handed down in the courts of first
instance. There were fourteen chambers of second instance in
1986. The courts of first instance hear both civil and criminal
cases; there were some eighty-seven such courts in 1986. The
broadest level of the legal system is the justice of the peace
courts. Numbering approximately 193 in 1986 and located
throughout the country, the justice of the peace courts decide
only cases involving misdemeanors and minor civil suits.
Data as of November 1988