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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

Costa Rica is a democratic republic with a strong system of constitutional checks and balances. Executive responsibilities are vested in a president, who is the country's center of power. There also are two vice presidents and a 15-member cabinet that includes one of the vice presidents. The president and 57 Legislative Assembly deputies are elected for 4-year terms. A constitutional amendment approved in 1969 limits presidents and deputies to one term, although a deputy may run again for an Assembly seat after sitting out a term. An amendment to the constitution to allow second presidential terms has been proposed. The constitutionality of the prohibition against a second presidential term also has been challenged in the courts.

The offices of the Comptroller General of the Republic, the Procurator General of the Public, and the Ombudsman exercise autonomous oversight of the government. The Comptroller General's office has a statutory responsibility to scrutinize all but the smallest contracts of the public sector and strictly enforces procedural requirements.

Governors appointed by the president head the country's seven provinces, but they exercise little power. There are no provincial legislatures. Autonomous state agencies enjoy considerable operational independence; they include the telecommunications and electrical power monopoly, the nationalized commercial banks, the state insurance monopoly, and the social security agency.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments (all sites in Spanish)

Judicial power in Costa Rica is exercised by the Supreme Court of Justice and subsidiary courts. The Supreme Court supervises the work of the lower courts, known as tribunals. The Legislative Assembly elects the 22 Supreme Court magistrates to renewable 8-year terms, subject to automatic renewal unless the Assembly decides otherwise by a two-thirds majority. A Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, established in 1989, reviews the constitutionality of legislation and executive decrees and all habeas corpus warrants. Accused persons may select attorneys to represent them, and the law provides for access to counsel at state expense for the indigent. The Costa Rican electoral process is supervised by an independent Supreme Electoral Tribunal--a commission of three principal magistrates and six alternates selected by the Supreme Court of Justice.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Human Rights The Costa Rican Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens in 2001, and the law and judiciary provide effective means of dealing with individual instances of abuse; however, there were problems in a few areas. There were some instances of physical abuse by police and prison guards, but reports of police abuse of authority or misconduct decreased during the year. The judicial system processes some criminal cases very slowly, resulting in lengthy pretrial detention for some persons charged with crimes. Domestic violence is a serious problem, and traditional patterns of unequal opportunity for women remain, despite continuing government and media efforts to advocate change. Abuse of children also remains a problem, and child prostitution is a serious problem. Child labor persists.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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