When lawyers in Costa Rica talk about civil law and mention the word “jurisdiction,” you may think it´s the legal boundaries between states. In reality, it´s more than that. Etymologically, the term comes from the Latin term “Iuris Dicto” or “Ius Dicere.” In layman´s terms, it translates to “the act of saying the law.” Jurisdiction is a function by which an impartial judge resolves the legal matter brought by litigation, with a final resolution that produces “res judicata.” It is the power and duty they have to administer justice, as per the sovereignty of the State. Therefore, jurisdiction in Costa Rica refers to the authority of the Costa Rican judges to hear and decide cases.
With this definition, you will probably understand that Jurisdiction in, say, Miami, Florida, is a different one than in, say, California. Even though the Federal Union links them, Judges and lawyers are bound to the laws of each sovereign state when they administer justice. Hence, jurisdiction in Costa Rica is only one: the power that the judges have in this country to administer justice, per the laws in Costa Rica.
Having said this, when you hear lawyers talk about civil, family, criminal jurisdiction, or corporate jurisdiction, they are simply talking about the different branches of laws in Costa Rica. Judges have jurisdiction because they resolve the cases before them per the rules of the subject-matter dispute. When a Judge recuses himself, he does not lose jurisdiction but rather “legal competency” to resolve that particular case.
It’s worth noting that Costa Rica has also signed international treaties and conventions that give jurisdiction to Costa Rica’s courts over specific cases, such as human rights violations and international commercial disputes. In addition to the regular courts, Costa Rica also has specialized courts, such as labor, environmental, and administrative courts, which have jurisdiction over specific areas of law.
However, this does not mean that the civil law judge can resolve matters that are the subject matter of the penal judge, not because of lack of jurisdiction, but because of what we call “subject-matter competency.” Hence, the proper way to talk about the different branches of law would be by subject-matter competence, such as civil competency, labor competency, etc. This page will refer to those branches of law as “jurisdictions” to make it easier for you.
Arbitrators are not Judges. However, they do have jurisdiction over legal matters when an arbitral clause is stipulated in a contract. In such instances, both parties have agreed to whisk the conflict out of the ordinary courts and into private arbitration. The ruling given by the arbitrators is final, as they have jurisdiction.
It’s important to know that even though there are separate branches, they all intertwine. For example, the Civil Procedures Code is used for family law procedures in Costa Rica, even though it was initially intended for other purposes.
Dr. Christopher Pirie.