Based on the French Civil code, not the English
Government of Costa Rica has 4 branches.
b) Executive - President and cabinet
c) Legislative - Elected members
Electoral Tribunal - takes over police and all
government functions dealing with elections before
Members are usually unpaid volunteers who
are judges. This
is to ensure all elections are completely
democratic and free.
The government ministers are not chosen
from elected members, but are appointed by the
There are 3 levels of courts.
a) District Courts
b) Appellate Courts
c) Supreme Court
courts and legal system are so bogged down that
they are ineffective.
The simplest case can take up to ten years,
and if the case is in agricultural court up to 20
time frame is becoming longer, not reducing.
of the enormous delays, bureaucracy, and in many
cases incompetence the system is more inclined to
punish the innocent and protect the guilty.
Those who do not wish to honour legal
agreements can safely ignore them for many years,
and criminals involved in fraud or other white
collar crime may not even be charged for years
after the victim reports the problem.
The burden of proof will likely fall to the
victim, who will have to pay a lawyer and other
costs to get the criminal charged.
We have begun to call it a legal system
The Supreme Court has 4 chambers.
a) Commercial and civil law
b) Administrative and labour law
c) Criminal law
d) Constitutional law.
This is called "Sala Cuarta".
of legislation on the grounds of constitutional
law are common and often successful.
Disputes over environmental issues,
property rights, business rights and any other
issues involving constitutional rights would be
heard by Sala Cuarta.
This court does function well, and provides
remarkable protection against laws passed by the
legislature that may offend anyone’s
All lawyers must be members of the “Colegio de
Abogados”, or bar association.
Notaries, who are empowered to take
affidavits and dispositions, plus witness and
certify the validity of documents, must be lawyers
as well as being notaries.
They must be registered with the Dirección
Nacional de Notaridado, a part of the court
Rights against a lawyer
While Costa Rica has many good lawyers, there are
also dishonest lawyers.
If a lawyer cheats you, you do have some
against a lawyer who has violated the code of
ethics of the Colegio de Abogados (bar
association) can be filed with the Colegio.
The inspectors’ office will then
investigate the complaint and may call a
conciliation meeting to see if settlement can be
no settlement is made, the Board of Directors will
study the case, and if it finds fault they will
hand down sanctions.
against a notary must be filed with the notary
directorate of the court, after which a more
extensive investigation will take place.
If it is found the complaint has merit
there will be a court case, which is handled like
a criminal case with prosecutors from the notary
complainant then becomes a civil party to the
action as well as victim.
the notary is found guilty compensatory and
punitive damages are awarded.
There is a fund into which all notaries pay
for a fidelity bond.
The fund will only pay up to the amount the
notary has contributed, so a new notary may have
very little available.
If funds are paid out on behalf of a
notary, the notary is suspended until the funds
1998 the regulations were changed to prohibit
notaries from putting a “hold harmless” clause
into a contract, and contracts with that clause in
it no longer protect the notary.
The statute of limitations to prosecute a
notary is two years.
hiring a lawyer consult with Casa Canada, ARCR or
other reputable sources with considerable legal
experience in Costa Rica.
It is best to choose a specialist in the
field where you need legal assistance.
Arbitration has become more and more popular
in contracts and agreements as the way to settle
legal disputes outside of the courts.
This process moves much quicker.
The largest arbitration court is with the
Costa Rican Chamber of Commerce.
Each party has the right to pick a judge,
then the two judges agree on a third member of the
are generally settled relatively quickly - in all
but a few exceptions within a year.