Chile Litigation Guide
1) General Characteristics of Legal System
Chile follows a civil law system strongly influenced by the Spanish and French legal systems, specifically by the Napoleonic Code model.
Generally, judicial proceedings are adversarial and have been evolving from a system based on written submissions to one centered on oral arguments. Currently, criminal, labour, tax, and family procedures are based on oral arguments, whereas civil litigation remains essentially as a written system, except for oral arguments before the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
2) Structure of Country's Court System
All courts and judicial agencies branch out from a single Judicial Power, forming a hierarchical system led by the Supreme Court, organised by territorial divisions and subject matter jurisdictions. The Supreme Court, located in Santiago and divided into four specialised courtrooms on a subject matter basis, has the directive, correctional and economical supervision of most courts (except, for example, the Constitutional Court). It has national jurisdiction and also acts as a Court of Cassation.
There are several regional circuits covering the territory, which internally include different court hierarchies. First instance courts may include one or more districts and in more populated districts are divided according to the matter over which they exercise jurisdiction (civil, family, criminal and labour law), whereas in rural or less populated areas they tend to exercise jurisdiction over various matters.
Courts of Appeal, on the other hand, are located in the main cities of the country (17 in total), acting as second instance courts in most matters when parties challenge the judgments of trial courts (exception: antitrust or constitutional matters).
We can also find courts with limited or special jurisdiction over certain matters, such as military, tax, antitrust and environmental issues, among others, and some governmental agencies that exercise jurisdiction as first instance courts in matters of their competence.
3) Court Filings and Proceedings
Court records are public in civil and commercial matters, whereas family proceedings and preliminary criminal investigations are kept private (except for the parties). For civil and commercial proceedings, public court records are accessible not only in the court where the proceeding is substantiated, but also on the official website of the Judicial Branch, with no procedure for protecting court filings and proceedings in general from public disclosure. Exceptionally, parties can request that the court limit public access to the court file, and both the parties and third parties can refuse to exhibit documents that contain secret or confidential information. In some special proceedings, such as before the Antitrust Court, parties may request to not disclose part of documents that contains confidential information.
4) Legal Representation in Court
In general terms, it is required that any person who must appear in court in his own name or as the legal representative of another, must do so in the manner determined by law. A person who appears in court on behalf of another, in the performance of a mandate or in the exercise of a position requiring a special appointment, must exhibit the title that proves his representation.
If a foreign lawyer wants to practice as a lawyer in Chile, he/she must first carry out a validation process, regardless of the length of time that the assignment or work is expected to last. If the degree has been obtained in a country that has an international treaty with Chile regarding this matter, a process of recognition must be initiated before the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If not, the degree must be revalidated at the University of Chile. In both cases, it is also necessary to obtain a subsequent habilitation by the Supreme Court, which must grant the title of lawyer. The foregoing does not include foreign lawyers who, like any other professionals, are hired to provide advisory services given their experience, skills and/or knowledge.
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