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RIC Query - Colombia (10 September 2002)

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Response to Information Request Number:COL02007.ZMI
Date:September 10, 2002
Subject:Colombia: Information on Judicial System and Staffing of Municipal Courts
From:INS Resource Information Center
Keywords:Colombia / Administration of justice / Judicial systems / Courts / Judiciary / Court of competent jurisdiction / Criminal justice / Criminal procedure / Judges / Lawyers / Municipal government




What are the minimum qualifications for persons to act in the capacity of a judge at the municipal level in cases involving charges of armed robbery, murder, terrorism, etc.?

May an employee without a law degree, who works as a secretary for the office, fill a vacant position left by a vacationing judge?


The information below is from telephone interviews of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Bogota and the Chief of Party of Checchi Consultants in Bogota, Colombia. Both interviews were conducted on July 30, 2002. Checchi Consultants were contacted because they work with USAID on administration of justice programs in Colombia.

USAID at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota reports that municipal courts are the lowest level of the judicial system, in other words, they are the court of first instance. These courts hear all types of cases: criminal, family, civil, and administrative (USAID Bogota 30 Jul 2002). The Chief of Party of Checchi Consultants in Bogota added that municipal courts in Colombia are not comparable to U.S. municipal courts. While municipal courts are the lowest jurisdictional level, their case load includes low level felony cases such as sex crimes and aggravated battery. The Chief of Party added that, particularly in a city as violent as Medellín, the judge who decides "wrong" in a case risks being threatened and killed, even if it is a seemingly trivial matter such as a rent dispute (30 Jul 2002).

Both sources indicate that non-lawyers act as judges in Colombia. USAID stated that at the municipal level there is no requirement that the judge have a law degree (USAID Bogota 30 Jul 2002). Checchi Consultants pointed to another possibility: the delegation of authority by the judge to the court staff. In Colombia, it is common for judges to delegate their legal functions to everyone who works under them. The delegates then execute all the legal functions of a judge. This delegation is illegal; however, it is common. Individuals to whom a judge delegates legal functions also bear the burden of the post in the form of threats (Checchi Consultants 30 Jul 2002).

Both USAID and Checchi expressed concern that the title secretary may be a misinterpretation of the Spanish term ¿secretario¿. If the title is "secretario de juzgado" that is the court administrator, the second highest person in the court (30 Jul 2002). While the "secretario de juzgado" is often an attorney or law student, at the municipal level many are not trained attorneys (Checchi Consultants 30 Jul 2002). USAID indicated that although it would be rare and uncommon, it would not be unheard of for a secretary (i.e., a person employed to handle correspondence, keep files and do clerical work) to substitute for a judge (USAID Bogota 30 Jul 2002).

This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC within time constraints. This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Checchi Consultants. Telephone interview with the INS Resource Information Center, 30 Jul 2002.

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Bogota. Telephone interview with the INS Resource Information Center, 30 Jul 2002.

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