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Law of the Spanish Autonomous Communities: Getting Started


Spain is divided into fifty provinces and seventeen Autonomous Communities. There are also two autonomous cities in north Africa: Ceuta and Melilla. For a map delineating Spain's administrative boundaries, see the Nations Online Project's  "Administrative Map of Spain."

This guide focuses on the legal regimes of the Autonomous Communities, as well as their complex relationship with the Spanish state. Emphasis is on materials available in English, although Spanish-language materials are also included. 

Articles 143 through 152 of the 1978 Spanish Constitution address the formation and powers of the Autonomous Communities. Articles 143 and 151 specifically describe the procedures by which Autonomous Communities may be formed. These procedures include the creation of Statutes of Autonomy, which reserve certain devolved powers for each community. Article 148 lists the powers that Autonomous Communities may possess, while Article 149 lists the competencies that remain exclusive to the Spanish state. Conflicts involving the extent of national and community powers are taken up by Spain's Constitutional Court, as evidenced most recently by the clashes between Spain's national government and the government of Catalonia

Note that locating, and also interpreting, sources of foreign law can be extremely challenging, even for seasoned legal researchers.  Keep in mind that, when approaching a question related to foreign law generally, it is often advantageous to start with a secondary source.  There are a number of useful print sources and online guides in English that can serve as introductions to understanding and researching the complexities of Spanish law. Some of these resources are listed at right, and others are listed under the "Books," "Databases," and "Web Resources" tabs.

"Spain is a Collection of Glued Regions. Or Maybe Not So Glued"

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Understanding Civil Law

Spain follows the civil law tradition.  Civil law, which has its roots in Roman law, features reliance on codified law, rather than precedential case law. An excellent introduction to the civil law tradition is noted above. Other books on civil law may be located using the LUC Library Catalog (see the "Books" tab for more info).

Online Translators

English-language translations of foreign legal materials are often difficult to locate and can be unreliable.  Only in rare instances are authoritative English-language translations available.  If authoritative versions are not available, look for "official" translations that are created by, or for, a government organization.  Further, look for synoptic translations, which allow for side-by-side comparisons of the vernacular with the English-language translation.  Some types of foreign legal materials are translated into English more often than others, such as those pertaining to commercial law. 

Many online translators are available on the WWW, but these should be used with caution since web translators do not generally include specialized legal or commercial vocabulary.  Online translators, however, may be of some help in getting the general sense of a document or passage. 

WWW translators: