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Brazil - Supreme Court

Official site: Brazil Supreme Federal Court.
In Portuguese, the Court is called Supremo Tribunal Federal, and is often referred to as the STF. The Justices are called Ministros.

Supreme CourtIn Brazil, only a Federal Supreme Court exists; there is no Supreme Court in the States.
The Supreme Court is subject of articles 101 to 103-A of the Constitution.
The Federal Court, with seat in Brasília, is composed by eleven Justices. All Justices are appointed by the President of the Republic, and must be approved by the Federal Senate.
The Justices must be no younger than 35 years and no older than 65 years at the time of taking office; the appointed Justices must be of notable juridical learning and spotless reputation; other than these, there is no other condition.
This page lists the current composition of the Court, with the names of all Justices of the Supreme Court. In 2005, among the Justices, there was a woman, Ellen Gracie (the first woman to become Justice of the Supreme Court), and a afro-Brazilian, Joaquim Barbosa (also the first).
The Justices (and all other judges) may retire if they so desire after 30 years of service (see article 74 of the State of Magistrature); the Justices must retire when they turn 70 years of age (article 40, paragraph 1, II, of the Federal Constitution).
In recent times, there is no case of accusation of corruption or dishonesty against Justices of the Supreme Court.
Some Justices of the Supreme Court are also, automatic and simultaneously, Justices of the Superior Electoral Court.

Article 102 lists all the competences of the Supreme Court. The list includes several specific functions of the Court, such as: to judge and declare the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of laws; to trial the President of the Republic and Ministers; to judge appeals from sentences by other Courts; several others.

The caption of the article states that the essential mission of the Supreme Court is to safeguard the Constitution.
The Brazilian Constitution has 250 articles, plus 94 Temporary articles; this means that a multitude of themes, from taxing, to labour relations, to social rights, is subject of an article of the Constitution.
As a consequence, the Brazilian Supreme Court is one of the busiest in the world. In 2004, the Court received 62,273 cases, down from 109,965 in 2003. Out of those cases, a small fraction was of relevance,like the 274 Direct Actions of Unconstitutionality. However, most were of low relevance, like an habeas corpus required by a citizen charged of stealing a cap (published at the STF site on August 19th 2004, 8:11 pm), or several cases of clash betwenn neighbours.

The majority of the cases is of repetitive subject, and all of these are somehow related to the Government. Justice Sepúlveda Pertence once declared, in an interview, that he refers to such cases as "computer cases"; according to him, all records of such cases, from the initial petition to the final sentence, are already stored in a computer; the parties only change specific information (names, dates, etc), keeping all the references to laws unchanged.
An example of such case is the action against the Federal government, which didn't adjust the deposits of the Employment Insurance (known in Brazil as FGTS - Fundo de Garantia por Tempo de Serviço - Insurance Fund by Time in Service) in a proper way. The deposits of this fund must be adjusted by inflation rates; the Government, in an attempt to reduce expenditures, adjusted the deposits by the lowest of the several Brazilian inflation indexes (which, for a time, used to be very high). The workers, instructed by Unions, filed suits; all cases did all the way to the Supreme Court, which gave reason to workers. Still, the Federal government only paid the adjustments after the judicial order. About 30% of all cases in Federal Justice are about this same matter.

To combat this serious issue, the Constitutional Amendment 45 split the article 103 in 103-A and 103-B. Article 103-B created the National Council of Justice. Article 103-A expanded the effectiveness of the binding summary in Brazil (before the CA, only the declaractory acts of constitutionality had a binding effect); in Portuguese, binding effect is called "efeito vinculante".
Summaries have been existing for a long time in Brazil. A summary is issued after a decision is repeated many and many times, and can be used by a judge to replace the legal fundamentation of his own sentences. However, the summaries didn't have a binding effect, meaning that no judge or court was obliged to follow them; very often, in name of the functional independence, a judge would issue a sentence knowing it would be changed by superior instances or, eventually, by the Supreme Court.
After CA 45, the Supreme Court (and only this court) may, under some circumsntances, issue a binding summary. After the summary is issued, all Judges, as well as the Public Administration, shall be obliged to comply with the commands of the summary. This should decrease the number of cases in Brazilian courts.

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