Judicial power is exercised by the Supreme Court of Justice and by other courts created by the Constitution and by law. The Constitution establishes courts of first instance in each province as well as a land tribunal and courts of appeal. Justices of the peace exist in each municipality and in the National District. The Constitution also mandates a court of accounts, which examines the country's finances and reports to the Congress.
Centralized and hierarchical, the Dominican legal system was patterned after the French system. It employed a code-law legal system rather than a common law system, such as the one used in the United States. Detailed and comprehensive, the codes left little room for United States-style judicial activism or citation of precedent. Legal reasoning was deductive (from the codes), rather than inductive, or based on past cases.
The Constitution calls for a Supreme Court consisting of nine judges. Judges are chosen by the Senate, not by the president, ostensibly to limit executive power. The Senate also selects the judges for the lower courts. Supreme Court justices must be Dominican citizens by birth or parentage, at least thirty-five years old, with full political and civil rights. They are required to have law degrees and to have practiced law, or held judicial office, for at least twelve years. These requirements become progressively less strict for lower-court justices.
The Supreme Court has the exclusive power to assume jurisdiction in matters affecting the president and other high officials, to act as a court of cassation, to serve as a court of last instance in matters forwarded from appellate courts, to exercise final disciplinary action over other members of the judiciary, and to transfer justices from one jurisdiction to another. The Supreme Court does not have the formal power to review the constitutionality of laws, decrees, or resolutions put into effect by the president or the Congress, although a movement began in the late 1970stoward limited judicial oversight of government acts.
The courts in the Dominican Republic historically have been subservient to the government in power. Moreover, politics have frequently dominated court proceedings, and the entire judicial system may be subject to outside pressures and, at times, even intimidation. Nevertheless, since the early 1960s the court system has become stronger, and the judiciary has become a more independent, if not a coequal, branch of government.
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