Jorge Posada of Parra, Rodriguez, Cavelier outlines new courts - Justice of Peace - created by Law 497.
Law 497, enacted February 10, 1999, has created what is now known as the "Peace Jurisdiction". This in reality is a new level of non-specialized judges (in Colombia judges are specialized according to their specific jurisdiction and, hence, we have civil, criminal, labor, etc. judges) that are at an intermediate level between normal judges and conciliatory authorities. This law shall be effective as of February 10, 2000.
The new jurisdiction, and its judges, are to work under their own set of principles. The main note here is that justices of peace are to pronounce their decisions based on principles of equity and "according to the community's own standards of justice" (Art. 2 of Law 497).
Rules for beginning proceedings before a justice of peace include: (i) Assistance is voluntary, that is, if one of the parties to conflict does not wish to go before a justice of peace, then the justice of peace will not be a competent authority; (ii) parties must be legally able to celebrate a transaction, conciliate or desist in the matters brought before these judges; (iii) maximum value of issues to be decided by justice of peace may not be more that 100 minimum legal monthly wages (currently close to either 23 million pesos or 15.000,00 United States Dollars); and, (iv) venue is defined by domicile of parties, place where issues of claim occurred or by judge commonly designated by parties.
Justices of peace are to be publicly elected for periods of five years, according to regulations that the Government must issue later. Civil servants may act as justice of peace; however, this activity is incompatible with political or armed (!) campaigning. Justice of peace is to be an honorary position, that is, justices will receive no pay for their services.
Procedure, as is to be expected, will be extremely simple; parties will present a petition to the justice, either verbally or in writing, and the judge shall set date for a conciliation hearing. Should the conciliation be celebrated by parties on such date, a minutes of the proceedings will be drafted by the judge and said conciliation shall have 'res judicata' effects. If no agreement is reached by the parties, the judge shall declare conciliation failed and pronounce judgement within the following five days.
If one or both parties are not satisfied with the adjudication, they may request 'reconsideration' (as a sort of appellate proceeding) within the five days following that in which the decision was notified to them. Reconsideration shall be granted by the judge and studied by a panel consisting of this judge and two 'reconsideration' judges. This panel must decide within the following ten days and its decision shall be final, as will the first decision if reconsideration is not requested.
Justices of peace shall be empowered to punish parties that violate either the conciliatory agreement or the judge's decision and may impose either fines worth up to fifteen minimum legal monthly wages or up to two months of community service, within the limits established by the law.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.
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