The Government approves the law that replaces single-person courts with lower courts | Spain

This Tuesday, the Council of Ministers approved the organizational efficiency bill, the third pillar of the transformation plan for the Administration of Justice on which the Government has been working since the last legislature. The electoral advance of July 23 left the so-called efficiency laws in limbo and the Executive chose to approve almost in their entirety two of them (digital efficiency and procedural efficiency) through two royal decrees, one at the end of the last legislature and another, at the beginning of this one. But the organizational efficiency law was pending, an organic law that implies a substantial change in the organization of the courts as they have been functioning until now. It must be approved by the end of 2024 and government sources are confident that the parliamentary process, already well advanced and negotiated with the groups in the last legislature, will not suffer setbacks. These sources focus on the fact that, in three months of the legislature, the Government has already approved all the efficiency measures that will give rise to what the Executive has presented as the greatest reformist push in matters of Justice in decades.

The project that was brought to the Council of Ministers this Tuesday – under the title organic law on the Efficiency of the Public Justice Service and Collective Actions for the Protection and Defense and Interests of Consumers and Users – is broader than the one that was processed in the previous legislature, because it includes a part of the procedural efficiency law that was not incorporated into the royal decree and a 2020 European directive on consumer collective actions that had to have already been approved and for which the EU had opened a procedure to Spain of infringement. The bulk of the text, however, is that of the so-called organizational efficiency law, a project that aims to leave behind the traditional judicial organization based on the proliferation of single-person courts that, according to all legal operators, have hindered specialization and favored the dispersion of means and inequalities in the workload and in the time to resolve matters.

The basis of the new organization is the trial courts, bodies that replace the 3,800 single-person courts that currently exist. Of these, there are 431 courts, one per judicial district, made up of at least one Civil Section and another for Instruction (which may be unique). In some cases, other specialized sections can be integrated (Family, Commercial, Gender Violence, Social…) that, until now, constituted individual courts. The objective is to prioritize collegiate decision-making, which, as the Government has defended during the processing of the law, ensures more efficient management and organization formulas and will increase the predictability of judicial resolutions, by establishing common criteria among the members of the court when assessing practically identical matters. The governing bodies of these courts will be elected by the judges in a participatory manner and the rules governing the distribution of matters among the members must be public.

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This change in organization does not affect the collegiate bodies (provincial courts, higher courts of justice or the Supreme Court), but it does affect all individual bodies, including those of the National Court, where the Central Court of Instance will now be created. The Government intends to agree on the deadlines for the implementation of these bodies with the parliamentary groups, and it is likely that different deadlines will be contemplated depending on the size of the courts. However, the text that is approved this Tuesday establishes a series of provisional deadlines that ensure that between January 1 and July 1, 2025, the transformation of all courts has been completed.

The second major pillar of the law is the Municipal Justice Offices, which replace the current peace courts, the more than 7,000 bodies that provide service to municipalities that do not have their own court and that are usually associated with small towns, but they are also the only door to the Administration of Justice in municipalities such as San Cugat del Vallès, Boadilla or Torrelodones. The new justice offices are called to continue fulfilling that function, but increasing services and facilitating procedural acts and procedures electronically so that people who reside in these municipalities do not need, in general, to travel to a provincial capital, as usual. The rule obliges the autonomous communities with powers in matters of justice to cooperate with each other through common projects that guarantee homogeneous quality standards throughout the State.

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