March 26, 2021

Mexico Makes Changes to Its Federal Judiciary

By Jorge Sánchez Cubillo and Eduardo Parroquín

A Decree published in the Official Journal of the Federation on March 11, 2021 amends and adds several provisions to the Mexican Constitution regarding the structure, functions and organization of the Mexican Federal Judiciary, as well as to the rules for handling certain constitutional cases. Such amendments were proposed by the Chief Justice of the National Supreme Court of Justice (“SCJN”) and presented to Congress by the Mexican President. The following are the most relevant amendments:

1.         Collegiate Courts of Appeal to Replace the Unitary Circuit Courts. Under the new system, federal appellate courts (tribunales unitarios de circuito) will go from one presiding Magistrate to three Magistrates, each retaining their existing constitutional authority.

2.         Regional Board Courts to Replace Circuit Board Courts. This change means that the Regional Board Courts replacing the Circuit Board Courts will have the express power to rule on any Contradictory Opinion of the Circuit Courts located within their respective regional jurisdiction. This is designed to establish mandatory precedents that will apply to future cases. Further, the Decree expands the territorial jurisdiction of such Courts. The amendment provides for the elimination of Circuit Board Courts; however, it does not identify which Collegiate Courts will comprise the respective Regional Board Courts.

By expanding the subject matter jurisdiction of the Regional Board Courts, the intent is that the SCJN will continue to have jurisdiction to rule on cases of high importance and national impact, avoiding the need for Mexico’s highest court to hear merely procedural cases.

3.         Precedents from the SCJN. The jurisprudence system of prior case authority is amended to provide that all decisions of the SCJN will be deemed relevant, authoritative and binding for all jurisdictional territories in Mexico.  This eliminates the prior requirement of confirmation by five decisions ruling the same way. Going forward, SCJN rulings will be binding if at least eight justices vote in favor in the Full Court and four favorable votes in each Court Board.

The system for evaluating case law precedents through reiteration remains unchanged for Collegiate Circuit Courts.

4.         Appointment of Judicial Bodies to Rule on Cases Involving Serious Human Rights Violations. The Federal Judicial Council is empowered to appoint one or more judicial bodies to hear cases involving serious human rights violations or those with an especially important social impact.

The amendment does not imply the formation of special courts to hear these cases, only that the cases will be heard by existing judicial bodies. In other words, such cases may be concentrated in one or more judicial bodies already in existence and in accordance with judicial rules expressly set forth for such purpose.

5.         General Declaration of Unconstitutionality. Article 107 of the Mexican Constitution is amended to provide that once a law is declared unconstitutional, the issuing authority is notified and the judicial decision is to be enforced as of the first judicial decision declaring such general law unconstitutional, instead of having to wait until such criteria is confirmed in several subsequent cases. 

6.         Review Appeals of Direct Amparos. Article 107 of the Mexican Constitution is amended to confer greater power to the SCJN to hear Appeals of Direct Amparos, specifically for cases that, in its discretion, involve issues that are of exceptional relevance in constitutional or human rights matters.

As a result of these new amendments, two new federal laws are expected to be enacted within the 180-day period following the publication of the Decree. Furthermore, changes to the Organic Law for Judicial Authority, Judicial Career Law and also, amendments to the following five different laws can be expected: Amparo Law; Regulations Law of sections I and II of Article 105 of the Mexican Constitution; Federal Public Defender Law; Federal Code of Civil Procedure, and Federal Public Servants Law, Regulatory of part B of Article 123 of the Mexican Constitution.