The Legal System of Spain


The national government of Spain is composed of a parliamentary monarchy with a hereditary constitutional monarch as the head of state. Under the 1978 Constitution, power was centered in a bicameral legislature--the Cortes (comprising of the lower house, Congress of Deputies, and upper house, Senate). Both houses are elected by universal suffrage every four years, but the 350-member Congress of Deputies uses a proportional representation system, whereas the Senate contains 208 members elected directly as well as 49 regional representatives. The Congress of Deputies handles greater legislative power. The leader of the dominant political party in the Cortes is designated by the Prime Minister and serves as the head of government. The Prime minister, deputy Prime Minister, and cabinet ministers together make up the Council of Ministers, the highest national executive institution with both policy-making and administrative functions. The constitution also establishes an independent judiciary. The judicial system is headed by the Supreme Court. It also includes territorial courts, regional courts, provincial courts, courts of first instance, and municipal courts. The Constitutional Court resolves constitutional questions. The twenty-member General Council of the Judiciary appoints judges and maintains ethical standards within the legal profession. The constitution also provides for a public prosecutor and a public defender to protect both the rule of law and the rights of citizens.
The regional government is a traditionally centralized, unitary state; however, the 1978 Constitution recognizes and guarantees the right to autonomy of nationalities and regions of which the state is composed. In the late 1980s, the national territory was divided among seventeen autonomous communities, each encompassing one or more previously existing provinces. Each autonomous community was governed by statute of autonomy providing for a unicameral legislative assembly elected by universal suffrage. The assembly members select the president from their ranks. The executive and administrative power is exercised by the Council of Government, headed by the president and responsible to the assembly. The division of powers between the central government and the autonomous communities was imprecise and ambiguous in the late 1980s, but the state had an ultimate responsibility for financial matters and so could exercise a significant degree of control over autonomous community activities. Another means of control provided by a presence in each region of central government is a delegate appointed by the Council of Ministers to monitor regional activities. The provincial government remained centralized in the late 1980s. It was headed by civil governors appointed by the Prime Minister, who are usually political appointees. The provincial government is administered by a provincial council that is elected from among the subordinate municipal council members and headed by the president. There are special provisions for the Basque provinces, the single province autonomous communities, and the Balearic and Canary Islands, as well as North African enclaves.
Following the death of Francisco Franco y Bahamonde in November 1975, King Juan Carlos de Bourbon engineered a transition to democracy that resulted in the transformation of
dictatorial regime into a pluralistic, parliamentary democracy. Prior to the advent of participatory
democracy, there was little political involvement by the citizens. Under Franco, the Spanish society essentially depoliticized. But after forty years without elections, parties revived and proliferated in months following Franco\'s death.
Spain\'s foreign relations were traditionally isolated from mainstream European affairs. It was neutral in both world wars and was ostracized during the early rule of Franco because of Franco\'s Fascist ties and dictatorial regime. But because of the strategic location at the western entrance to the Mediterranean, Spain was drawn into the United States orbit during the Cold War. It signed a defense agreement with the United States in 1953, and was subsequently renewed at regular intervals. Nevertheless, anti-Americanism persisted. They were also permitted to join the United Nations. Following Franco\'s death in 1975, the main diplomatic goal was to establish closer ties with Western Europe and to be recognized as a West European democratic society. It became a member of the Council of Europe in 1977, EC in 1986, and Western European Union in 1988. It had already joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1982, but the membership was controversial within Spain. Socialists initially opposed it, but ultimately it came to support limited involvement, and a public referendum in March of 1986 confirmed Spain\'s membership. Other major