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Sources of Law

The Civil Code in its article 1 establishes that the sources of the Spanish legal system are: the law, custom and the general principles of law.

The following types can be distinguished:

  1. Written sources: The Constitution, laws and government rulings with the status of law, and regulations. Collective agreements have to be added to these in the case of employment law.
  2. Unwritten sources: custom and the general principles of Law.
  3. Indirect sources: International Treaties, Jurisprudence and scientific doctrine. The Civil Code specifies that laws forming part of international treaties will not be applicable in Spain until they have been incorporated in Spanish legislation by being published in full in the Official State Gazette. Jurisprudence will complement the legal system with the doctrine confirmed repeatedly by the Supreme Court when interpreting and applying the law, custom and general legal principles.

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What kinds of legislation are there?

We go starting from written sources. Thus you can establish the different classification:

  1. 1978 Constitution
  2. Laws
    1. Laws and Government rulings with the status of laws: Royal Decree-Acts and Royal Legislative Decrees.
    2. Laws passed by the Autonomous Communities.
  3. Regulations
    1. Regulations: Royal Decrees, Ministerial Orders, Resolutions, Instructions and Circulars.
    2. Regulations issued by the Governments of the Autonomous Communities.

1978 Constitution

It is the maximum standard of the Spanish legal system and the other standards are dictated in development hers. Those laws which existed before it was signed have had be adapted to its principles.

The Constitution has two parts:

  • Doctrinal, which lists the fundamental principles on which it is based.
  • Organic, which explains the organisation and functioning of the Spanish democratic system.


Within this general description we can distinguish the following categories:

By source:

  • Laws. They can be enacted by:
    • Parliament,
    • the Government,
    • the Parliaments of the Autonomous Communities. These are rulings that have the status of laws, established in accordance with the legislative powers delegated to the Autonomous Communities. Their limitations are determined by the powers of the Autonomous Communities, according to the Constitution and each Statute of Autonomy. They have the same rank as ordinary laws passed by Parliament. There is no distinction in hierarchical status, the only difference being in the respective powers of each body.

By type:

  • Organic Laws: these are laws concerning the development of fundamental rights and public freedoms, those approved in the Statutes of Autonomy, the general regime for elections and others specified in the Constitution.

    The approval, modification or repeal of organic laws requires an absolute majority in Parliament in a final vote on the whole proposal.

    The Statutes of Autonomy are a special type of organic law, as they have their own procedures for modification and repeal.
  • Ordinary laws: these are passed in plenary parliamentary sessions by a simple majority and do not involve matters related to organic laws.
  • Royal Decree-Laws. In the event of extraordinary circumstances requiring urgent action, the Government can pass provisional legislation in the form of decree-laws. These cannot affect the legislation governing basic state institutions, the rights, duties and freedoms of citizens as regulated in Part I of the Constitution, the regime governing Autonomous Communities or the general law on elections.
  • Decree-laws. They must be immediately debated and voted on by all members of parliament, called for this purpose if it is not in session, within thirty days of being announced. Within this period parliament must expressly approve or reject the proposed legislation, following a special, legally established summary procedure.

    During the period specified in the previous section, parliament can process decree-laws as emergency draft legislation.
  • Royal Legislative-decrees. Parliament can delegate to the Government the power to pass legislation with the status of laws regarding certain matters not included in the previous section.

The delegation of legislation is effected by means of a framework law when its object is the formulation of a full text or by an ordinary law when several legal texts are combined in one.

Legislation must be expressly delegated to the Government for a specific matter with a time limit. The powers delegated to the Government terminate when the relevant legislation is published. They cannot be considered as delegated implicitly or for an indefinite period, nor can they be subdelegated to bodies other than the Government.

The framework laws must accurately define the purpose and extent of the legislative powers delegated and the principles and criteria that they must respect. In no case can full texts of legislation exceed the limitations set in the framework law. There are two specific limitations for framework laws:

  • They cannot authorise the modification of the framework law itself.
  • They cannot empower the Government to enact retroactive legislation.

Authorisation to revise legal texts will determine the scope of the powers delegated, specifying whether it is limited to the formulation of a single text or if it includes standardising, explaining and harmonising various legal texts that have be revised. These are referred to as revised texts.

Notwithstanding the authority of the Courts, the laws delegating legislation can establish additional control formulas.


The exercise of the Government's statutory power is subject to the Constitution and other laws.

Regulations cannot deal with matters subject to the principle of legal reservation or breach legislation with that status. Moreover, notwithstanding their role in developing or supporting the law, regulations cannot define criminal offences, administrative misdemeanours or offences, establish penalties or sanctions, taxes, levies or other personal or financial charges or benefits of a public nature.

Regulations must comply with the following rules regarding powers and hierarchy:

  • Provisions approved by Royal Decree of the Prime Minister or the Council of Ministers(opens in new window) .
  • Provisions approved by Ministerial Order.

No regulation can infringe the precepts of another which is above it in the hierarchy.

Administrative decisions that infringe the provisions of a regulation are null and void, even if they have been made by a body on the same level or a higher level than that which has approved the regulation.

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When does a law come into force?

The coming into force of a willingness is governed for the article 2 Civil Code (Royal Decree of 24 July 1889).

If the legislation itself does not establish the time, the period known as "vacatio legis" is twenty days starting from the complete publication of the law.

Provided that nothing is established to the contrary, when a number of days is specified, starting on a particular date, this day will be excluded from the calculation, which will start on the following day; and if the period is specified in months or years, it will be counted from date to date. If in the last month there is no day equivalent to that on which the calculation begins, it will be understood that the period ends on the last day of the month.

In the civil calculation of time limits, non-working days are not excluded.

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What is a consolidated law?

A consolidated law is one which includes in its text all modifications and corrections made to the law since it was originally enacted.

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The documents listed here are for information only; only information published in theOfficial State Gazetteor included in certificates issued in accordance with current regulations are valid in full.

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