Filing a Lawsuit in Colombia

If you have been wondering how to file a civil or a criminal lawsuit in Colombia, then this guide is just for you.

The procedure to file a lawsuit is different in every country. Since Colombia is a civil code jurisdiction, Administrative law, labor law, civil and commercial cases follow an adversarial adjudication method. It wasn’t until 2004 that criminal law too migrated to the harmful way.

Therefore, no matter the claim, a lawsuit in Colombia will be a court-based process in which Person A can hold Persona B liable for the wrongful act or harm they committed.

Criminal Law

Filing Time Limitation

There’s a time limitation for file filing every case. Depending on the action, there are different statutes of limitations in Colombian law that range from 6 months to 10 years. In the case of administrative law proceedings, the statute of limitation varies from 6 months, i.e., the time when a claim is made against an executive order or administrative act, to 2 years for public contracts.

In commercial and civil matters, the statute of limitation is five years for executory proceedings and ten years for everyday actions. This statute of limitation may also apply to criminal lawsuits. As for the time limit for responding to claims, the terms are different too. In tutela proceedings, a defendant has 48 hours to respond, and in a criminal claim, the defendant has 25 days to respond. In administrative actions, the time limit is 30 business days. Lastly, in arbitration and ordinary actions, it’s 20 business days, and in executory proceedings, it’s ten business days.

Filing a Civil and Criminal Lawsuit

Colombia is a Civil Law country
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As mentioned earlier, Colombia is a Civil Law country. Its legal system is based on laws and codes rather than jurisprudence. However, countries that operate on civil law have one thing in common; they don’t recognize jurisprudence. In simple words: They don’t acknowledge any investigation into law.

The court’s decision is only binding for the people involved in the cases rather than everyone. When it comes to judicial decisions, they are applied to different cases to reference new judges. In Colombia and a couple of other countries that follow civil law, the high court’s decision has more power. Their scope is unlimited, and, in some cases that are controversial and higher profile, a court can interrupt the law and mold it to fit the crime.

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According to Chapter IV Article 7 of “The Right to a Fair Trial”

Any person detained shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or be released without prejudice to the continuation of proceedings. His release may be subject to guarantees to assure his appearance for trial.

When it comes to criminal lawsuits, Colombian law states that every victim has the right to put forward their case and have a fair trial. Assistance is provided by the Office of the Attorney General regarding where you can file the case.

The procedure is pretty simple:

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File a written report or in-person

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When the report is filed, make sure that you provide specific information, like the time, place, and any description of the facts that might help with the proceedings.

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The report must be filed either by the victim or a third party

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Changes Brought by the Pandemic

Since the pandemic, the judicial system in Colombia has changed. When the judicial terms were suspended due to COVID-19, activities were halted till June 30, 2020. After that, the only ones working were high courts, tribunals, and courthouses looking into specific matters tied to fundamental rights. It wasn’t until July 1, 2020, that the activities continued like normal but only online.

According to the 806 Decree, the terms of the General Procedural Code rules were modified, and the following changes were highlighted:

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Claim Filling

The new Decree states that all documents for a lawsuit are filled via data message through virtual channels authorized by the Superior Council of the Judiciary.

Even though the claim is made online, the form should include the email address of all the parties involved to be notified of the proceedings. In addition, the attorney, witness, defendant, and any experts speaking on behalf of the case and third parties should be present when the case is conducted online.

Before the 806 Decree was modified, a hard copy of the lawsuit was required to be filed in the courthouse. This obligation disappeared due to the pandemic but is still in place.

For the claim to be admitted, the data message should be sent directly by the attorney or victim to the defendant. If the defendant does not receive the data message, the court will declare the claim inadmissibly. Once the judge admits the claim, the court sends the defendant a personal admission notification.

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Typical Court Proceeding

A court proceeding takes place in two stages, which are as follows:

A Written Stage: This stage comprises the claim’s submission, counterclaims, and all responses (Due to the pandemic, this takes place through data messages)

The Oral Stage

This stage itself has two stages, which include:

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The first stage, which is also the first hearing, deals with the what and whys of the proceedings and boils down to the decision on preliminary defenses

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The second stage, the trial hearing, collects evidence, listens to closing arguments, and finally, a decision is reached.

Where to File the Report

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Salas de Recepción de Denuncia (Compliant Reception Rooms) – These refer to specific places where reports are received

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Comisarías de Familia (Family Police Stations) – In the case of domestic violence, there are specific organizations aimed at restoring, ensuring, and preventing domestic violence. They also award compensation rights to family members who witnessed the violence where the abuse occurred.

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Grupos de Accion Unificada por la Libertad Personal – GAULA (Unified Action Groups for Personal Freedom)

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SIJN and DIJN Police Stations

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Casas de Justicia in Bogotá

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Centros de Atención Penal Integral a Victimas CAPIV (Centers for Comprehensive Criminal Attention to Victims) – These refer to the centers where Integral and Legal Assistance is provided to the victims

For nationwide complaints, call on 122. The report can also be filed online or at the office of the Attorney General.

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