SECTION XV. The Judicial Power
The Judicial Power shall be vested in the Supreme Court of Justice and in the Tribunals and Courts as prescribed by law.
The Supreme Court of Justice shall be composed of five members.
The following qualifications are required in order to be a member of the Supreme Court of Justice:
- Forty years or over;
- Native citizenship in exercise of the rights thereof, or legal citizenship with ten years exercise thereof and twenty-five years of residence in the country;
- To have been a lawyer for ten years, or as such to have been a member of the Judiciary or the Public or Fiscal Ministry for a period of eight years.
The members of the Supreme Court of Justice shall be appointed by the General Assembly by a two-thirds vote of its full membership. The appointment must be made within ninety days after a vacancy has occurred, for which purpose the General Assembly shall be called into special session. If this period expires without an appointment having been made, the appointment as member of the Supreme Court of Justice shall go automatically to the member of the Appellate Tribunals having the longest service in such post, and, if there is equal seniority, to the person who has served longest in the Judiciary or in the Public or Fiscal Ministry or prosecution service.
In cases of vacancy, and as long as they are not filled, and of challenge, excuse, or disability in fulfilling the judicial function, the Supreme Court shall be constituted in the manner prescribed by law.
The members of the Supreme Court of Justice shall serve for ten years, without prejudice to the provisions of Article 250, and they may not be re-elected until after a lapse of five years following the previous term.
Their compensation shall be fixed by the Legislative Power.
The Supreme Court of Justice shall:
- Try all violators of the Constitution, without exception; offenses against the law of nations and cases in admiralty; questions relating to treaties, pacts and conventions with other States; and take cognizance of cases involving diplomatic Representatives in such cases as are contemplated in international law.In the aforementioned matters and in all others in which the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction, it shall be the province of the law to decide on the procedure to be followed, which in any case shall be public and shall require final judgments, with opinions and express reference to the law that is applied;
- Exercise directive, corrective, advisory, and economic supervision over the Tribunals, Courts and other dependencies of the Judicial Power;
- Prepare the draft budgets of the Judicial Power and transmit them in due course to the Executive Power for inclusion in the draft of the general budget, together with such modifications as may be deemed appropriate;
- With the approval of the Chamber of Senators, or during its recess with that of the Permanent Commission, appoint the citizens who shall compose the Appellate Tribunals, such appointments to be contingent upon the following:
- A favorable vote of three of its members, for candidates who belong to the Judiciary or the Public Ministry;
- A favorable vote of four, for candidates not having the qualifications of the foregoing paragraph;
- Appoint the Lawyer Judges [jueces letrados] of all grades and classes, an absolute majority of all members of the Supreme Court being required in each case.These appointments shall be permanent in character from the moment they are made whenever the candidates concerned are citizens who have served at least two years in the Judiciary, the Public or Fiscal Ministry, or as a justice of peace, in positions which must be filled by lawyers.If such officials had less seniority in their respective posts, they shall be considered as Interim Lawyer Judges for a period of two years, counting from the date of their appointment, and citizens newly taken into the Magistracy shall have a like classification for the same period.
During such interim period the Supreme Court may at any time remove the Interim Lawyer Judge by absolute majority of all its members. At the end of the period the appointment shall be considered confirmed in full right;
- Appoint the permanent Official Defenders and Justices of the Peace by absolute majority of all members of the Supreme Court of Justice;
- Appoint, promote, or remove, by a vote of four of its members, the employees of the Judicial Power, in accordance with the provisions of Articles 58 to 66, wherever pertinent;
- Perform such other duties as the law may prescribe.
In the exercise of its functions, it shall address itself directly to the other powers of the State, and its President shall be empowered to attend the parliamentary committees, with a voice in discussions but no vote, when they deal with matters of interest to the Administration of Justice, and may promote therein the progress of bills for judicial reforms and amendments to the Codes of Procedure.
There shall be established such Appellate Tribunals as the law may determine, and with such powers as the law may confer upon them. Each of such Tribunals shall consist of three members.
To be a member of an Appellate Tribunal requires the following qualification:
- Thirty-five years of age or more;
- Native citizenship in full exercise of such rights, or legal citizenship exercised for at least seven years;
- To have been a lawyer for at least eight years or to have been engaged in such capacity in the Judiciary or Public Ministry for six years.
The members of the Appellate Tribunals shall remain in office during good conduct, up to the limit imposed by Article 250.
The law shall fix the number of Lawyer Courts [juzgados letrados] in the Republic, consistent with the exigencies of a most prompt and efficient administration of Justice, and shall indicate the location of the seat of each of these, its powers, and the manner of exercising them.
To be a Lawyer Judge the following requirements must be met:
- Twenty-eight years of age or more;
- Native citizenship in full exercise thereof, or legal citizenship for four years or more;
- To have been a lawyer for at least four years or to have been engaged in such capacity in the Public or Fiscal Ministry or as a justice of the peace for at least two years.
Lawyer judges who render effective service shall remain in office during good conduct, up to the limit imposed by Article 250. Notwithstanding, and for reasons of the good of the service, the Supreme Court may transfer them at any time, from their office or place or from both, provided such transfer is decided upon after hearing the Court Prosecutor, and subject to the following conditions:
- Vote of approval of three members of the Supreme Court in favor of the transfer, if the new office does not imply a reduction in grade or remuneration or both, as compared with the former;
- Vote of approval of four of its members in favor of the transfer if the new office does imply a reduction in grade or remuneration, or both, as compared with the former.
To be a Justice of the Peace the following requirements are prescribed:
- Twenty-five years of age or more;
- Native citizenship in full exercise thereof, or legal citizenship for two years.
To the qualifications stated there should be added the requirement that candidates for Justice of the Peace in the Department of Montevideo must be lawyers, and either lawyer or notary public in the capitals and citizens of the other departments or in any other town of the Republic where the judicial activity so demands, in the opinion of the Supreme Court.
There shall be as many Justice of the Peace Courts in the Republic as there are judicial districts into which the territory of the departments is divided.
Justices of the Peace shall hold office for four years and may be removed at any time, if the best interests of the public service so demand.
The services of all members of the Judicial Power shall cease upon their attaining the age of seventy years.
Positions under the Judiciary shall be incompatible with any other salaried public office, with the exception of professorships in law in higher public education, and with any other permanent honorary function except those particularly connected with the judiciary.
To occupy any such position the prior authorization of the Supreme Court of Justice shall be required, by an absolute majority of all its members.
Magistrates and all persons attached to internal offices and sections of the Supreme Court, Tribunals and Courts shall be prohibited, under penalty of immediate dismissal, from conducting, defending, or handling judicial cases, or from acting, except as required by their official duties, in any way in connection therewith, even by voluntary jurisdiction. The violation shall be officially declared as soon as it becomes known. This prohibition shall be without effect solely with respect to personal matters of the official or of his wife, children and parents.
With reference to the personnel of offices or sections, these may also be subject to such exceptions as may be established by law.
The law may also lay down individual prohibitions with respect to officials or employees of staffs not covered by the first paragraph of this article.
Military jurisdiction shall be limited to military offenses and to a state of war.
Common offenses committed by the military in time of peace, regardless of the place in which they are committed, shall be subject to the ordinary courts.
The administration of justice shall be gratis for those who are declared paupers according to law. In suits in which such a declaration has been made in favor of the plaintiff, the defendant shall enjoy a like privilege up to the time of final judgment, which shall confirm his right thereto if such judgment declares the plaintiff guilty of bringing suit without sufficient cause.
No suit in a civil matter may be brought without first showing that settlement has been attempted before a Justice of the Peace, save for those exceptions established by law.
Laws may be declared unconstitutional by reason of form or content, in accordance with the provisions of the following articles.
The Supreme Court of Justice has original and exclusive jurisdiction in the hearing and decision of such matters; and must render its decision in accordance with the requirement for final decisions.
The declaration of the unconstitutionality of a law and the inapplicability of the provisions affected thereby, may be requested by any person who considers that his direct, personal, and legitimate interest is injured:
- By means of lawsuit, which must be filed before the Supreme Court of Justice;
- By plea of exception, which may be made in any judicial proceeding.
A judge or court which hears any judicial proceeding, or the Contentious-Administrative Tribunal, as the case may be, may also request the declaration of unconstitutionality of a law and its inapplicability, before rendering a decision.
In this case and in that provided in subparagraph 2 above, the proceedings shall be suspended and the case referred to the Supreme Court of Justice.
The decision of the Supreme Court of Justice shall refer exclusively to the concrete case and shall have effect solely on the proceedings for which it was rendered.
Decrees of the Departmental Governments which have the force of law within their jurisdictions may also be declared unconstitutional, subject to the provisions of the preceding articles.
The law shall prescribe the pertinent procedure.