During a recent visit to Spain, I explored their legal system and how it compares to ours.
The United States follows a common law legal tradition, placing an emphasis on judicial precedent and the decisions of higher courts. Under this system, judges play a vital role in interpreting and shaping the law. In contrast, Spain follows a civil law legal tradition, where statutes and codes are the primary sources of law. Judges are expected to apply the law as written, with less room for interpretation.
The American legal system is federal in nature, with separate state and federal court systems. Each state has its own court system, including trial courts and appellate courts. Additionally, there are federal courts, culminating in the U.S. Supreme Court. In Spain, the legal system is centralized, with a single national court structure. It includes a hierarchy of courts, with the Spanish Supreme Court at the top.
In the USA, judges are often appointed, and their decisions can have broad implications, setting legal precedents that guide future cases. In Spain, judges are typically career professionals who pass rigorous examinations. They are less inclined to create legal precedents and tend to follow established laws and codes closely.
The criminal justice systems in both countries differ. The U.S. system often involves plea bargains, where defendants may negotiate for reduced charges or sentences. In Spain, there is less emphasis on plea bargaining, and trials are more inquisitorial, with judges playing a more active role in gathering evidence and questioning witnesses. Interestingly, in Spain juries have 9 persons vs 12 in the USA
Legal education in the United States typically involves a three-year Juris Doctor (J.D.) program after completing a bachelor’s degree. In Spain, legal education involves a five-year undergraduate program in law, followed by an exam for entry into the legal profession.
While United States and Spain share some similarities as products of European legal heritage, they also exhibit significant differences in their structures, traditions, and practices.