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An Important, But Little-used, Legal Resource

by Garland M Baker on December 21, 2005

Procuraduría General Web Site

Going to get into a legal fight in Costa Rica? Here is a great resource and it’s free.

Most people do not know about the incredible Web site of La Procuraduría General de la República, the Attorney General’s office of Costa Rica. This authority is the superior juridical organ and public administration technician for the country. The attorneys of the Procuraduría represent the country in legal matters when affairs of the state are at stake.

The Procuraduría Web site hosts el Sistema Costarricense de Información Jurídica, Costa Rica’s judicial information source. It is part of the administration of justice’s modernization program funded by a loan from the Interamerican Development Bank.

The system includes legislation from as far back as 1821. It contains laws, executive decrees, international conventions, and treaties, along with regulations, rules, and by-laws to apply the law. Higher court decisions from appellate, cassation, and constitutional courts that form Costa Rica’s jurisprudence are all available on-line.

Navigating the Web site is simple once you become familiar with its nuances. One aggravation is that not-so-complex searches end with incorrect, or no, results. It is best to keep the search criteria to four keywords or less. The system is all in Spanish, and there are no translations available, but almost every document is downloadable to your computer for off-line study. It is nothing like the tax department’s Web site that hardly works.

This is a very important resource to use when thinking about getting into a legal battle in Costa Rica. Courts here use the Napoleonic legal system. Napoleonic law’s foundation is ancient Roman law. That is, laws are put into writing so everyone can understand them. This means there is a law, rule, or regulation for everything.

This legal system is different from common law, which is a collection of laws and principles based on court precedent. Judges interpret laws and statutes, and the ruling of one judge may influence or even control the ruling of another.

If this is true, why is the information available at the Procuraduría important?

Because studying the rulings of judges and courts can increase probabilities of success in court.

Does this mean going to court in Costa Rica is like a crapshoot? Sometimes, yes! One judge or court can take the same law and make a decision based on it completely opposite to that of another judge or court.

However, through research, one can hypothesize outcomes because different court decisions by different judges can provide a feeling of how the legal decision-makers perceive an issue.

Most foreigners have their own ideas about how the court system here should work. They are the first to shout corruption when a case does not go their way.

It is best to stay out of court in Costa Rica. Legal fights can take years and drain financial resources and physical health fast. Most attorneys play the role of paperpusher and not strategist. Many lawyers do not know or use the resources at the Procuraduría or any other judicial information reference, for that matter.

Getting into a nasty legal action in Costa Rica is like two boys throwing mud pies over a fence. One throws one pie, and the other tosses two. Usually this goes on geometrically, making lawyers wealthy. The lawyers are always on the fence pointing to the next mud pie to pitch.

Courts in Costa Rica will be closed Dec. 23 to Jan. 16. but the Web site will be there for research and study.

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