Guide to Legal Research in Nicaragua

By Magda Violeta Blandino

Magda Violeta Blandino holds Law and Notary Public degrees from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua. She also obtained an LL.M. degree from The George Washington University, Washington, D.C. Currently she is a professor of Commercial Law at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua and Attorney at Law at Consortium CentroaméricaTaboada & Asociados in Nicaragua.

Published March 2007

1. General information

Nicaragua is located in the heart of Central America. It borders with Honduras to the North, Costa Rica to the South, the Pacific Ocean to the West and the Caribbean Sea to the East. It surface area is 130,373.47 sq km. It has a population of approximately 5 and a half million people. Managua is the capital of the country. Spanish is the official language, although diverse dialects are spoken in the Atlantic Coast.

2. The Constitution

The Political Constitution of Nicaragua is the supreme law of the country. It was issued by the National Constitutional Assembly on November 19, 1986 and in force since January 9, 1987.

Its framework contains titles, chapters and each provision is numbered as an article. There are 202 articles in total.

The Constitution of Nicaragua has suffered three main partial reforms:

  • The reform of 1995:

It was made through the Law Nº 192 of Partial Reforms of June 15, 1995 and published in the official gazette[1] Nº 124 of July 4, 1995. There were modified 62 of the 202 articles of the constitutional text in diverse topics, among them: individual rights, political rights, social rights, family rights, national defence, national economy, agrarian reform, public finances, education and culture, structure of the government and municipal and community matters.

The main purpose of this reform was to balance the State Powers, allocating functions to the Legislative Power which contributed to the lessening of the attributions of the President to control the political system.

  • The reform of 2000

It was made through the Law Nº 330 of Partial Reforms of January 18, 2000 and published in the official gazette Nº 13 of January 19, 2000. This reform modified 19 articles of the Constitution covering diverse ambits of the national political system: territorial rights and national sovereignty, double nationality, exercise of political rights (modifying dispositions of requirements and impediments to become a candidate or to be appointed in ministerial positions or in other Branches or State Institutions if the person had acquired another nationality, dispositions about the percentage needed to win an presidential election, enlargement of the Supreme Court of Justice and Electoral Supreme Council and Creation of the Superior Council of the National Comptroller’s Office.

  • The reform of 2005

It was made through the Law Nº 520 of Partial Reforms of January 13, 2005 and published in the official gazette Nº 35 of February 18, 2005. This reform basically gives more powers to the National Assembly. The main change is that the National Assembly has the faculty to ask for informs to the Ministers and Vice-Ministers of State, Attorney General and Directors of autonomous entities (among others) and to ratify the appointments of Ministers, Vice-Ministers of State, Attorney General (among others) made by the President of the Republic. The reform of 2005 is not yet effective through a political accord enacted as Law (Ley Marco para la estabilidad y gobernabilidad del país), published in the official gazette Nº 203 of October 20, 2005.

2.1 Constitutional Law

The constitutional control is exercised by the Supreme Court of Justice. The Constitution establishes the three procedures of control:

  • Unconstitutionality of the law: Its aim is to protect the supremacy of the Constitution. In this sense, it can be filed by any citizen against any law, decree or regulation that is in opposition to the Constitution. If the Supreme Court finds the law unconstitutional, this sentence has full effects throughout the entire legislative system.[2]
  • Writ of Amparo: Its aim is to protect the rights and freedoms protected by the Constitution. It can be filed by the offended against all disposition, act or resolution of the public administration that violates or tries to violate his rights and/or freedoms protected by the Constitution.[3]
  • Writ of Habeas Corpus[4]: Its aim is to protect specifically the right to personal freedom. It can be filed in favour of the offended by any citizen of the Republic against the responsible authority.[5]

The Amparo Law (Ley de Amparo) published in the official gazette Nº 241 of December 20, 1998 is the law that regulates the procedures stated in the Constitution.

3. Structure of the Government

Nicaragua is a democratic, participative and representative Republic. Its State organs are: Legislative branch, executive branch, judicial branch and electoral branch.

The national territory is divided for its administration, in fifteen departments, two autonomous regions in the Atlantic Coast and one hundred fifty-three municipalities. Due to the multiethnic variety found in the Atlantic Coast (mestizos, creoles, misquitos, sumos, garifunos and ramas) Nicaragua has recognized the importance of treating these regions as autonomous. The Statute of Autonomy of the Regions of the Atlantic Coast, (Estatuto de la Autonomía de las Regiones de la Costa Atlántica de Nicaragua), sets forth the principles, the political–administrative regime and other special features of the organization of the two autonomous regions.

The municipality is the basic unit of the political–administrative division of the country.[6] The municipality has political, administrative and financial autonomy and its administration belongs to the municipal authorities.[7] These authorities are formed by a Municipal Council presided over by a Mayor. The authorities are elected by popular vote every four years. The Law of Municipalities, (Ley de Municipios), Law Nº40 of July 2, 1988, published in the official gazette Nº 155 of August 17, 1988 and its regulations sets forth in detail the competences of the municipalities.

3.1. The Executive Branch

The Executive Branch is headed by the President of the Republic, who is Chief of the State, Chief of the Government and Commander in Chief of the Nicaraguan Army.[8]

President and Vice-President are elected by universal suffrage for a term of five years.[9] To be elected as President and Vice-President, the candidates should obtain a relative majority of at least forty percent of the valid votes, unless the candidate who obtains a minimum of 35% of the valid votes overcomes the candidate who obtains the second position by a minimum difference of five percent.[10] If none of the candidates obtains this percentage to be elected, it will take place a second round of election in which only the first and second place candidates participate, with the winner decided on number of votes.[11]

The Vice-President will fulfil the functions appointed by the Constitution, delegated by the President directly or through law.[12] Also, he will stand in for the President, in cases of temporal or definitive absence.[13]

The President of the Republic nominates and discharges the Ministers of the State, the Attorney General, and Directors of autonomous entities and Ambassadors. However, in order to become effective, this nomination should be ratified by the National Assembly.[14] There are twelve Ministries in the current structure of the government.

In addition to the provisions contained in the Constitution, the Law of organization, competences and procedures of the Executive Branch (Ley de Organización, Competencias y Procedimientos del Poder Ejecutivo) of March 29, 1998 and published in the official gazette Nº 102 of June 3, 1998, is the specific law governing the Executive Branch.

3.2. Legislative Branch

The Legislative Branch is composed of the National Assembly. This organ is formed by ninety proprietary members elected by universal suffrage for a term of five years with their respective substitutes.[15] Twenty congressmen have the character of national and seventy have the character of departmental.

Also part of the National Assembly are the former President and Vice- President (as proprietary member and substitute, respectively) and the runner-up candidates to President and Vice-President (as proprietary member and substitute, respectively).[16]

The National Assembly has the primary duty of elaborating and enacting laws and decrees, and to amend and derogate them.[17]

The legislative branch is governed by the General Statute of the National Assembly of 2006, which repealed the previous Statue of 1987 and its reforms.

3.3. The Judicial Branch

To the judicial branch belongs exclusively the jurisdictional faculty of judging and carrying out what has been judged.

The Constitution states that the justices and judges in their judicial activity are independent and must obey only to the Constitution and the law; they are governed, among others, by the principles of equality, publicity and right to defence.[18]

The Organic Law of the Judicial Branch (Ley orgánica del poder judicial) and its reforms is the specific law regulating this State organ. It was enacted in July 7, 1998 and published in the official gazette Nº 137 of July 23, 1998.

The Organic Law of the Judicial Branch establishes a two-tier system not allowing more than two instances.[19]

The Nicaraguan legal system is formed by: local judges, district judges, Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Justice.

Local judges exercise their duty in the municipalities. A local judge has a specific competence over a matter: civil, labor, family or criminal, except in small municipalities where just one judge could be competent for all the matters mentioned before.

District judges exercise their duty in the departments and autonomous regions. They judge cases in civil, labor, family or criminal matters. However, it is possible that just one judge could be competent for all the matters mentioned before. To distinguish which case will be judged by whom (local or district judge) is used the criterion of the monetary amount of the lawsuit.

Courts of Appeals resolve the appeals cases from the district judges. They are formed by no less than five magistrates. They also have exclusive jurisdiction over some matters.

The Supreme Court of Justice is formed by sixteen justices elected by the National Assembly for a term of five years. It is the highest court in the Republic. It is divided in four chambers: civil, criminal, constitutional and contentious-administrative. The decision of some matters, including the constitutionality of a law or decree, requires decision from the plenary of the court.

3.4. Electoral Branch

The electoral branch is in charge of the organization, direction and vigilance of the elections (whether national or municipal), plebiscites, and referendums.[20]

Elections of the President, Vice-President and congress take place every five years in the same election; the election of municipal authorities takes place every four years.

The electoral branch is formed by the Electoral Supreme Council and other subordinated electoral organisms.[21]

The Electoral Supreme Council is formed by seven magistrates and three substitutes elected by the National Assembly. [22]

3.5. Administrative Law

The Civil Service and Administrative Career Law is the specific law that regulates the rights, duties, faults and disciplinary procedures of the public servants. This law was enacted November 19, 2003 and published in the official gazette Nº 235 of December 11, 2003. Other laws regulating specific relations between the government and the public servants are the Judicial Career Law and the Foreign Service Law.

At some moment the claims of the citizens against the acts or resolutions made by the public administration were regulated by the Law of the Contentious-Administrative Jurisdiction. However, this Law was considered unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in most of its parts. Currently, though no yet derogated, its application is suspended. Currently, the claiming citizen has to exhaust the administrative realm in order to file its claim as a Writ of Amparo (if constitutional rights have been violated).

3.6. Other State Organs

Other state organs that play an important role in the Nicaraguan legal system are:

3.6.1. Public Prosecutor’s Office

It is an independent institution with organic, administrative and functional autonomy in charge of the prosecution of public offences and the representation of the victim through the criminal process. The public Prosecutor is appointed by the National Assembly for a term of five years.[23] The public prosecutor’s office is governed by its Organic Law (Ley Orgánica del Ministerio Público) of May 2, 2000, published in the official gazette Nº 196 of October 17, 2000.

3.6.2. Attorney General’s Office

Unlike the public prosecutor’s office, this institution only has functional autonomy. Basically, its function is to represent the State and to defend its rights and interests and act as a legal advisor. The Attorney General is appointed by the President (no specific term exists, given that this authority has rank of Ministry of State).[24] The attorney general’s office is governed by its Organic Law (Ley Orgánica de la Procuraduría General de la Republica) of December 4, 2001, published in the official gazette Nº 244 of December 24, 2001.

4. Sources of Law

The formal sources of law recognized in any civil law country are also recognized in Nicaragua, namely: legislation, treaties, jurisprudence and doctrine.

4.1. Legislation

Nicaragua is a civil law country in which legislation is the primary source of law. The legislative process is found in Articles 140 to 143 of the Constitution.

The projects of law, decree or regulation require for its approval the vote of simple majority of the congressmen adopted in a meeting in which the quorum is formed by absolute majority of them, except when the Constitution states another type of majority, like the amendment of the Constitution or the amendment of the so-called constitutional laws.[25]

Every project of law must be presented to the Secretary of the National Assembly with its respective exposition of motives.[26]

The National Assembly reads the project and passes it to a specific commission, which is in charge of elaborating a report.[27] This report is read by the National Assembly and it is debated in general, if approved, then it has to be debated in particular.[28]

Once the project of law is approved by the National Assembly, it is passed to the Executive Branch for signature and publication in the official gazette. If after fifteen days the President does not exercise his right to veto and does not sign and publish the law, the project is final and the President of the National Assembly sends it for publication in any newspaper, without prejudice to its subsequent publication in the official gazette. If the President exercises the right to veto (partial or total) the project of law returns to the National Assembly. The National Assembly can overturn the veto by absolute majority of votes.[29]

New laws, decrees or regulations are published in the official gazette.[30] This is basically the only publication in which they can be found in paper. However, sporadically some compilations are published by Nicaraguan publishing houses.

4.1.1. Codes

Most of the Nicaraguan Codes have been adapted to the necessities created by the social changes occurring in the country. In this sense, new codes and/or complementary laws have been enacted to try to follow the legal trends of a modern society.

  • The Civil Code (Código Civil): In force since 1904. It sets forth regulations regarding family (marriage, divorce, paternity and guardianship), obligations, property, succession and contracts. Complementary laws on adoption and property have been enacted.
  • The Code of Civil Procedure (Código Procesal Civil): In force since 1906. Regulates the procedures required to litigate before the civil courts.
  • The Penal Code (Código Penal): In force since 1974. It establishes the criminal misdemeanors and offenses punishable by law. Complementary laws on money laundry, drug control, environmental offenses, fire guns, among others, are also in force.
  • The Code of Criminal Procedure (Código de Procedimiento Penal): In force since 2001. This code derogated the criminal procedure code of 1879 and its reforms. It establishes an accusatory system similar to the US system.
  • The Commercial Code (Código de Comercio): In force since 1917. It regulates the qualification of a person or entity as merchant, the Mercantile Registry, the contracts and obligations, the different types of commercial/business corporations that can be constituted in Nicaragua, fusion, dissolution and bankruptcy of these corporations, etc. Several laws have been enacted to update the Nicaraguan legal system, for example: The Securities Law (Ley General de Titulos Valores) of 1971, which derogated the corresponding title of the code; the Insurance Companies Law (Ley General de Instituciones de Seguros) of 1970 and its reforms, the Stock Market Law (Ley de Mercado de Capitales) of 2006, etc.
  • The Labor Code (Código del Trabajo): In force since 1996. It governs the relationship between employer and employee.

The codes can be viewed at the National Assembly website. They are also available in print form from publishing companies like Editorial Bitecsa and Editorial Juridica. Codes are sold at specialized bookstores.

4.2. Treaties

Article 182 of the Constitution contains the principle of constitutional supremacy which establishes that the Constitution is above any law, treaty, order or disposition.

In Nicaragua, the President of the Republic is the representative of the nation before the international community. In this sense, according to Article 150, section 8, he is in charge of directing the international relations of the Republic, and of negotiating and signing treaties.

Once the President has signed a treaty, to become law, the National Assembly has to approve it.[31] However, the treaty can only be debated, approved or denied in general, and no changes can be introduced or made.[32]

4.3. Jurisprudence

According to article 443 of the Civil Procedure Code the judges or tribunals have the duty to resolve the petitions of the parties and it establishes that if there is no law regulating the matter, they should follow at first the general principles of law and then the legal doctrine or jurisprudence. However, there is no a specific number of uniforms judgments mentioned. The same statement is found in article 18 of the Organic Law of the Judicial Branch.


In an effort to improve the economic and social development of the country, the Nicaraguan government engaged in negotiations with United States to participate, together with the rest of the Central American countries and the Dominican Republic, in the biggest free trade agreement in the history of the region: the Dominican Republic – Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA).

The DR-CAFTA removes barriers to trade with and investment in the region and furthers regional economic integration.[33] Under the Agreement, more than 80% of U.S. consumer and industrial exports and over half of U.S. farms exports to Central America would become duty-free immediately.[34] For the DR-CAFTA countries, 100% of non-textile and non-agricultural goods would enter the United States duty free immediately.

In addition to its economic regulations, the DR-CAFTA includes an “Intellectual Property Rights” section – chapter 15 – which includes general provisions governing the whole chapter and specific provisions dealing with trademarks, geographical indications, domain names, copyrights and related rights, patents and regulated products and enforcement.

CAFTA negotiation was completed on a very short timeline (one calendar year January – December 2003 / 10 rounds).

The Bush Administration pursued the CAFTA negotiations based on a bill approved by the U.S. Congress to confer Trade Promotion Authority (or “Fast Track”) to the White House; under “Fast Track,” Congress is limited to an up or down vote and cannot amend a trade agreement.

CAFTA was signed on May 28, 2004 in Washington D.C. Bilateral negotiations between United States and Dominican Republic were held on January – July 2004 (4 rounds). The Dominican Republic signed CAFTA on August 8, 2004 becoming then DR – CAFTA.

So far, CAFTA has been already approved by the US Congress and by the National Assemblies of Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua (October 2005), Guatemala and Dominican Republic. It is still waiting to be approved by Costa Rica. Its entry into force in Nicaragua was April 1, 2006.

6. Foreign Investment

The Constitution establishes that all companies organized under any of the type of properties protected by it (private, public, cooperative, associative and communitarian) enjoy equality before the law and economic policies of the State. This statement implies a general principle of equality between national and foreign investors.

In 2000 the Promotion of Foreign Investments Law (Ley de Promoción de Inversiones Extranjeras) was enacted.[35] This law basically enunciates the principle established by the Constitution and extends it. The Law states specifically that the foreign investor is subject to all the legal rules of general observance in the Nicaraguan territory and that the foreign investor enjoys the same rights and enforcement mechanisms that the law grants to Nicaraguan investors.[36]

As an additional effort to attract foreign investment in 2006 the President of the Republic enacted the Executive Decree Nº 55- 2006 of creation of a single window of investment for the facilitation of procedures in the organization of business enterprises (Creación de la ventanilla única de inversiones para la facilitación de trámites en la formación de empresas).[37] This office expects to speed up the procedures that involve the participation of the public administration.

Also in this matter, the DR-CAFTA dedicates Chapter 10 to Foreign Direct Investment. The Agreement represents a detailed set of rules regulating the topic. In the text, definitions of investors, investment and covered investment are found.

The principles of National Treatment, Most Favoured Nation and Minimum Standard Treatment apply to the establishment, acquisition, expansion, management, conduct, operation, and sale or other disposition of investments.[38]

With regard to restitution or compensation, the Agreement states that each Party shall accord to investors of another Party, and to covered investments, non-discriminatory treatment with respect to measures it adopts or maintains relating to losses suffered by investments in its territory due to armed conflict or civil strife. If an investor of a Party, suffers a loss in the territory of another Party resulting from a) requisitioning of its covered investment or part thereof by the latter’s forces or authorities; or b) destruction of its covered investment or part thereof by the latter’s forces or authorities, which was not required by the necessity of the situation, the latter Party shall provide to the investor, restitution or compensation, which in either case shall be in accordance with customary international law and compensation shall be paid with no delay, and it shall be equivalent to the fair market value, fully realizable and freely transferable.

In the event of an investment dispute, the claimant and the respondent should at first seek to resolve the dispute through consultation and negotiation, which may include the use of non-binding, third-party procedures such as conciliation and mediation. If dispute is not resolved, the proceeding of the chapter concerning Dispute Settlements shall be applied.

6.1. Expropriation

In principle the Constitution guarantees the right of private property (movable or real estate).[39]

However, the Constitution contemplates expropriation in cases of social interest or public utility. Any taking is subject to previous fair compensation in legal currency.[40]

The DR-CAFTA also provides that no Party shall expropriate or nationalize a covered investment either directly or indirectly through measures equivalent to expropriation or nationalization, except for a public purpose, in a non-discriminatory manner, subject to payment of a prompt, adequate and effective compensation. Compensation shall be paid with no delay, and it shall be equivalent to the fair market value, fully usable and freely transferable.

7. Research Tools

7.1. Government Internet Sites

Executive Branch

Legislative Branch

Judicial Branch

Electoral Branch

Other State Organs

Public Registries

7.3. Law Schools

7.4. Books and Publications

Legal Databases

Currently, access to legislation from 1969 to 2006 is found at the webpage of the National Assembly.


The Supreme Court of Justice publishes its opinions in Judicial Bulletins (Boletines Judiciales).[41] Online access to jurisprudence is possible throughout the webpage of Supreme Court. However, the jurisprudence posted is limited to periods from 1913 to 1922 and from 1990 to 1997. CD-ROMs with this case-law are also available. The Supreme Court of Justice Library is also a resource to research case-law. In addition, the law libraries of the Law Schools offer a complete collection of the Judicial Bulletins.

General Libraries

  • Library of the Central Bank “Jaime Incer Barquero” (Biblioteca del Banco Central “Jaime Incer Barquero”). Direccion: Km 7 Carretera Sur Managua. Telefono: 2557171
  • Biblioteca “Presbitero Dr. Tomas Ruiz”. Dirección: Carretera bypass, frente a FUNDECI, Leon. Telefono: 3114628
  • National Library “Rubén Darío”


  • La Gaceta, Diario Oficial (Official Gazette). It is the periodical publication where all laws, decrees, accords, resolutions, etc. are published. In order to get access to it you have to paid C$ 35.00 cordobas (almost US $2.00 dollar) or get a membership. Online access is also available through the Presidency of the Republic webpage, but right now this page is under construction.
  • Revista “Encuentro”, Universidad Centroamericana.
  • Revista “Envío”, Universidad Centroamericana.


  • Mantica, Carlos. El habla nicaragüense y otros ensayos. Hispamer, 1998.
  • Castillo Masis, Ignacio. La funcionalidad del poder legislativo en Nicaragua. MIFIC-GTZ, 2000.
  • Esgueva Gomez, Antonio. Las Constituciones Politicas y sus reformas en la historia de Nicaragua. Editorial EL PARLAMENTO, 1994.
  • Garcia Vilchez, Julio Ramon. El control constitucional en Nicaragua. Corte Suprema de Justicia, 2000.
  • Solorzano Reñazco, Anibal. Glosas al Codigo de Comercio de Nicaragua: Concordancia y Jurisprudencia. Hispamer, 1999.
  • Navas Mendoza, Azucena. Curso Basico de Derecho Mercantil, Tomo I y II. Editorial Universitaria UNAN-León, 2003 y 2004.
  • Escobar Fornos, Ivan. Contratos I y II. Universidad Centroamericana, 1991.
  • Escobar Fornos, Ivan. Derecho de Obligaciones. Hispamer, 2000.
  • Buitrago, Roberto. Manual del Notario. BITECSA, 1959.
  • Perez Ortega, Raul. Manual de Jueces de Distrito Civil. Escuela Judicial, 1995.
  • Bendaña Guerrero, Guy. Curso de Derechos de Autor y Derechos Conexos. Hispamer, 2006.
  • Castellon Barreto, Ernesto. Manual de Procesal Penal. BITECSA, 2000.
  • Blandon Garcia, America y Sergio. Compendio de Consultas ante la Corte Suprema de Justicia 1980-1999, Tomo I y II. EDITASA, 2003.
  • Baez Cortes, Theodulo y Julio Francisco. Todo sobre impuestos en Nicaragua. INIET, 2005.

7.5. Newspapers

7.6. Participation in International Organizations

[1] The official gazette (in Spanish La Gaceta, Diario Oficial) is the periodical publication where the different bodies of law are published after being approved by the National Assembly.

[2] Article 187 of the Constitution.

[3] Article 188 of the Constitution.

[4] It is also called “Exhibicion Personal.”

[5] Article 189 of the Constitution.

[6] Article 176 of the Constitution.

[7] Article 177 of the Constitution.

[8] Article 144 of the Constitution.

[9] Article 148 of the Constitution.

[10] Article 147 of the Constitution.

[11] Idem.

[12] Article 145 of the Constitution.

[13] Idem.

[14] This was one of the changes introduced by the constitutional reform of 2005, therefore, it is not yet effective as explained in section 2.0

[15] Article 132 of the Constitution.

[16] Article 133 of the Constitution.

[17] Article 138 of the Constitution. This article enumerates the 32 duties of the National Assembly.

[18] Article 165 of the Constitution.

[19] Article 20 of the Organic Law of the Judicial Branch.

[20] Article 168 of the Constitution.

[21] Article 169 of the Constitution.

[22] Article 170 of the Constitution.

[23] Article 24, Organic Law of the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

[24] Article 7 Organic Law of the Attorney General’s Office.

[25] Article 141 of the Constitution.

[26] Idem.

[27] Idem.

[28] Idem.

[29] Idem.

[30] See Section 7.4. Books and Publications of this Article, sub-section Periodicals.

[31] Article 138, section 12 of the Constitution.

[32] Idem.

[33] Office of the United States Trade Representative Press Release, 2006 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers (March 30, 2005) available at (last viewed March 2, 2006).

[34] CRS Report for Congress, The Dominican Republic – Central America – United States Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) (January 3, 2005) available at (last viewed March 2, 2006).

[35] Published in the official gazette Nº 97 of May 24, 2000.

[36] Article 3 of the Promotion of Foreign Investment Law.

[37] Published in the official gazette Nº 168 of August 29, 2006.

[38] National Treatment and Most Favoured Nation are two principles of the World Trade Organization.

[39] Article 44 of the Constitution.

[40] Idem.

[41] Judicial Bulletins are the official periodical publications issued by the Supreme Court of Justice.