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Historical Perspective

When Brazil was still a Portuguese colony, it was aptly forced to operate under the law of Portugal. However, when Brazil gained independence in the early 1800’s, they created a new form of government out of necessity. The law that they created is mostly derived from Portuguese law and is also considered civil law. Civil law, as unlike common law, does not rely previous instances of similar cases or juries to make rulings. Instead, civil law relies on statutes.

Statutes are essentially written laws. In the case of Brazilian’s civil law, these statutes make up the major reasoning behind any legal rulings. According to the Constitution of Brazil, the Supreme Court is the only governing body allowed to make legal rulings. Any lesser judges or courts must adhere to the overarching decisions of the Supreme Court. Power is divided in Brazil between State and Federal judicial branches.

Brazil’s Constitution calls the country a Federative Republic, as there are twenty-six federate states in Brazil and each is allowed to adopt their own state Constitutions and set of laws. The power to create their own state legal system, however, is greatly restricted by the overarching Federal Constitution. The principles and laws that a state mandates must be within the restrictions of this larger Constitution. Municipalities within these Federal states have a similar restricted power. Their laws and principles must closely follow those outlined in the Constitution of their particular state.

The Division of Powers

As for the Union in Brazil, it is made up of three independent bodies:

Executive – This sector of the union is responsible for the daily governing of the state. It executes the laws, and is really what people refer to when they say “the government” of Brazil. The head of this sector is the President of the Republic, who is elected by Brazilian citizens. He is also known as Chief of State and Head of Government.

Legislative – This sector is technically called the National Congress, and it is made up of two separate houses. The first is the Chamber of Deputies and the second is the Federal Senate. Members of both houses are elected by Brazilian Citizens.

Judiciary – The Brazilian judiciary interprets the law in times of dispute, and the system is separated into the State and Federal branches. The Federal Supreme Court is the largest court and it is meant to protect the principles of the Constitution.

The legal system in Brazil is much like that of other countries that operate on a system of Civil Law, but it is quite different from those that operate on the principles of Common Law, such as the United States. Since the guidelines set forth by the Constitution are so important to any rulings, it can be complicated to understand, and many law schools exist in Brazil to fully teach lawyers how the system operates. In fact, many lawyers exist in Brazil, and there were 621,885 working in 2010 to help people understand and navigate the law. While complex, the Brazilian legal system is becoming more organized every day and is constantly improving to better suit it’s civilians.

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