How the Court Works
The judicial secretariat, which is headed by a clerk of the court who also manages the central section, comprises the latter and four case sections (headed by legal clerks).
The support services include the President’s Office (with assistants and secretaries under a Head of Office), the Vice-President’s Office, the Justices’ Office, the Public Prosecutors’ Office (with assistants and secretaries), the Documentary Support and Legal Information Unit (responsible for organizing the library and jurisprudence and for publishing the Court’s decisions), and the IT Centre (responsible for planning and managing the Court’s computer systems).
Law no. 19/2003 of 20 June 2003 — Law of Financing of Political Parties — created the Political Accounts and Financing Entity (ECFP), an independent body that works with the Constitutional Court providing technical assistance in its assessment and monitoring of the accounts of political parties and election campaigns. This Entity was regulated by the Organizational Law no 2/2005 of 10 January.
The Constitutional Court sits in plenary sessions or in sections [Article 40(1) of the LTC], depending on the nature of the subject matter on which it is called to rule.
Appeals and objections in cases involving the specific verification of constitutionality and legality are heard by sections (except when the President decides that the case should be heard in plenary session because this is necessary in order to avoid conflicting jurisprudence, or when the nature of the issue at stake justifies it — Article 79-A of the LTC), as are cases involving candidatures for election to the Presidency of the Republic (Article 93 of the LTC). All other decisions are handed down in plenary.
There are three sections. They are not specialized and each of them is made up of the President or Vice-President and four more Justices. The Court decides who will belong to each section at the beginning of each judicial year (Article 41 of the LTC).
As a rule the Court sits in ordinary session every week. The frequency of these sessions is laid down by the internal regulations and their exact schedule is worked out at the beginning of each judicial year [Article 36d of the LTC].
Extraordinary sessions are convened by the President, either on his own initiative, or at the request of the majority of all the Justices in full exercise of their office.
Neither the Plenary nor the sections can sit unless the majority of all the applicable Justices in full exercise of their office are present. Decisions are taken by majority vote of the Justices present (although Article 42 of the LTC does not expressly say so, the Court’s understanding is that the need for a majority applies to both the decision itself and its grounds).
Each Justice has one vote, and the President — or the Vice- President, when he is standing in for the President — has a casting vote. In other words, if the vote is tied, the President’s
vote is decisive. Justices who find themselves in a minority are entitled to issue a dissenting statement [Article 42(3) and (4) of the LTC].
Once it has been admitted to the Court, each case is assigned by ballot to a rapporteur (Articles 49 and 50 of the LTC). He then resolves all the related issues that do not require the intervention of all the Justices involved (Articles 78-A and 78-B of the LTC), and draws up a memorandum or draft ruling containing the list of issues on which the Court is called to rule [Articles 58(2), 65(1), 67, 78-B(1) and 100(3) of the LTC].
The Public Prosecutors’ Office is represented at the Constitutional Court by the Attorney-General, who may delegate his functions to the Deputy Attorney-General or to Assistant Attorneys-General (Article 44 of the LTC).
The Seat of the Court also houses the assemblies that determine the overall results of national referenda and the elections of President of the Republic and Members of the
In cases concerning the abstract, non-preventive monitoring of the constitutionality and legality of legal rules, and appeals against judicial decisions, the Constitutional Court is subject to the general system governing judicial vacations. There are no vacations in relation to other cases [Article 43(1) and (2) of the LTC]. The individual Justices’ holidays are decided in such a way as to ensure that there is always a quorum for plenary sessions and for each of the Court’s sections [Article 43(6) of the LTC]. Nor does the secretariat close for judicial vacations [Article 43(7) of the LTC].