The judicial courts fall into three degrees or instances: the courts of first instance which are, as a rule, the county courts; the courts of second instance which are the Courts of Appeal; and the Supreme Court of Justice.
The Supreme Court of Justice seats in Lisbon and has nationwide jurisdiction. The Courts of Appeal are, usually, courts of second instance.
There are currently 5 Courts of Appeal: Lisboa; Porto; Évora; Coimbra and Guimarães. Their territorial jurisdiction has, as reference, clusters of counties.
As regards the first instance courts, the Judicial Map encompasses 23 counties: Açores; Aveiro; Beja; Braga; Bragança; Castelo Branco; Coimbra; Évora; Faro; Guarda; Leiria; Lisboa; Lisboa Norte; Lisboa Oeste; Madeira; Portalegre; Porto; Porto Este; Santarém; Setúbal; Viana do Castelo; Vila Real and Viseu. They correspond to the main courts whose seat conforms to the current administrative districts, except for Lisbon and Porto that are divided into three or two counties respectively.
Every one of the 23 counties is subdivided into central and local instances.
In short, the central instances have jurisdiction over the whole geographic area that corresponds to the county and are divided into (i) civil sections (that deal with and decide, in general, on cases with a value higher than 50 000.00€, (ii) criminal sections (that prepare and hear proceedings of a criminal nature that fall within the competence of a collective court or of a jury) and (iii) sections of specialized jurisdiction, in particular, commerce, enforcement, family, juvenile, criminal instruction and labour sections.
On their turn, the local instances, which deal with and decide on matters other than those allocated to the central instance, comprise sections of generic jurisdiction and may be divided into civil, criminal and small crime sections as well as proximity sections.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office
In the Portuguese system, the Public Prosecutor’s Office is the competent judicial authority in the investigative phase of the criminal proceedings (“inquérito”), and it is competent to prosecute based on the principle of legality and to defend the democratic legality.
There is a Public Prosecutor’s representation in all the criminal Courts (the County Courts, the Appeal Courts and the Supreme Court of Justice).
The Public Prosecutor’s Office is an integrant part of the judiciary, is autonomous and it is characterized by it’s broad powers of initiative.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office has 3 main organs: the General Prosecutor’s Office (nacional competence), the Regional Prosecutor’s Offices (regional competence, in the areas of Porto, Coimbra, Lisboa and Évora) and the District Prosecutor’s Offices (local competence, one for each of the 23 districts/counties).
In the Criminal Jurisdiction, at the investigative phase of the criminal proceedings, there are three main departments: at national level, the DCIAP, competent for the investigations and prosecution of serious, organized, economical and financial crimes; at regional level, the DIAP’s of Porto, Coimbra, Lisboa and Évora, with the same competence as the DCIAP, but at regional level; and the DIAP’s at district/county level, with competence for all crimes, organized in generic and specialized sections.
For more details:
http://www.ministeriopublico.pt/ (in Portuguese, English and Spanish)
Judicial systems in Member States - Portugal (e-Justice website)
http://www.csm.org.pt/judicario (in Portuguese)