Nature and constitutional status of the Constitutional Court
The Constitutional Court is a true court, just like the other courts described in the Constitution, but having said that, it is more than a court — it is also a constitutional body per se. What is more, as a court, it also has some important features of its own in terms of its composition and responsibilities and the way in which it works.
As a constitutional body per se, the Constitutional Court occupies a specific position and plays a specific role in the constitutional system of political authority: it can declare that legal (particularly legislative) provisions are unconstitutional, which means that they then cease to be in effect; and it possesses responsibilities in relation to the President of the Republic, national and local referenda, political parties, political officeholders, and elections.
As a court, it shares the characteristics that apply to all the courts: it exercises sovereign power (Article 202 of the Constitution); it is independent and autonomous, and is not dependent on and does not work under or within any other body; its Justices are independent and cannot be removed; and its decisions are binding on every other authority. However, unlike the other courts, the Constitutional Court’s composition and responsibilities are laid down directly by the Constitution itself; the majority of its Justices
are appointed by the Assembly of the Republic; it enjoys administrative and financial autonomy and its own budget, which occupies a separate heading under the “general State expenses” section of the national Budget; and it settles any issues concerning the delimitation of its responsibilities itself.
In the hierarchy established by the Constitution, the Constitutional Court is the first of the courts to be mentioned (in Title V [Courts] of Part III), and thus precedes the remaining categories of court.
Under the heading ‘Categories of court’, Article 209 of the Constitution says:
“1. In addition to the Constitutional Court, there shall be the following categories of court:
a) The Supreme Court of Justice and the courts of law of first and second instance;
b) The Supreme Administrative Court and the remaining administrative and tax courts;
c) The Audit Court.
2. There may be maritime courts, arbitration tribunals and justices of the peace. ”
Although Article 210(1) says that the Supreme Court of Justice is the senior body in the hierarchy of courts of law, and Article 212(1) says that the Supreme Administrative
Court is the senior body in the hierarchy of administrative and tax courts, in the same breath they both say that this is “without prejudice to the specific responsibilities
of the Constitutional Court”.
What is more, the Constitution goes on to grant the Constitutional Court an autonomous position in Title VI, where the Court is singled out and given its own constitutional treatment as another “State authority”, on the same level as the President of the Republic, the Assembly of the Republic, and the Government, whereas the remaining courts are covered together in Title V.
Precisely because the Constitutional Court is a body that guarantees the very legal/constitutional system itself, the Constitution also takes the trouble to define its main
responsibilities (Articles 221 and 223), as well as its composition and organisation (Articles 222 and 224) —something that it does not do (or at least not to the same
extent) in relation to any other category of court.