Courts are sovereign bodies which administer justice, that is to say, they have the power to settle legal disputes. Court decisions are binding on all public and private organisations and prevail over those of any other authorities.

Access to justice is guaranteed for all citizens so that they can defend their legally-protected rights and interests. If anyone cannot afford legal expenses, they may apply for legal aid.

Judges decide only according to the Portuguese Constitution and law.

The Public Prosecution Service (Ministério Público) is the body responsible for representing the State, prosecuting criminal offences and protecting the rule of law and the interests determined by the law. Its offices are generally located in court buildings. In some of the bigger cities, such as Lisbon, Oporto, Évora and Coimbra, there are also Public Prosecution Service offices responsible for criminal investigation - these are called Criminal Investigation and ActionDepartments (Departamentos de Investigação e Ação Penal, DIAP).

These lawyers take part in the administration of justice and provide legal representation for the parties.
The court officer works in the administrative offices of the courts and the Public Prosecution Service offices. These officers are responsible for carrying out the orders of the judge and the Public Prosecution Service and to conduct, on their own initiative, some administrative actions required for the proceedings to run smoothly.

Do plan your trip to the court in advance by getting information about its exact location and estimating the travel time. If you get the chance, go to the court a few days before the trial so you become familiar with the different areas, such as the courtroom and the witness waiting room and, if possible, attend another trial or at least part of it.

If possible, try to arrive a little early as security checks sometimes take time, particularly in the larger courts, and to find out exactly where you must go. If you are not sure, ask a court officer, who will be able to direct you to where you need to go. After reaching your destination, wait until a court officer calls the names of the people attending the trial. Respond when your name is called so that your presence there is recorded. You should then wait until the court office calls you into the courtroom.

Trials are almost always open to the public, that is, anyone can go into the courtroom and attend the hearing. There are a few exceptions, however, such as in cases involving sexual crimes or human trafficking. In these trials, the public is not usually allowed into the courtroom in order to protect the victim's privacy.

To see a courtroom and know who participates in a trial, please click here.