The Portuguese judicial system is divided in two jurisdictions: the civil jurisdiction and the administrative jurisdiction. In both, courts are divided in three tiers.

The constitutionality of laws is judged by the Constitutional Court, which has the power to judge the conformity of laws or the interpretation of norms contained therein with the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic.

Using arbitration as a means of settling disputes is allowed under Portuguese law in civil and commercial matters as well as in tax matters, provided that the dispute does not belong to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts and is of a non-personal nature.


The Supreme Court of Justice is the higher court of the civil jurisdiction and has national jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Justice decides on appeals from lower courts. The Supreme Court is also organised in specialised sections.

The Courts of Appeal (Tribunal da Relação) are competent in several districts. These courts decide on appeals of the lower courts’ decisions regarding any cases falling within the civil jurisdiction.

The courts of first instance decide on civil, commercial and labour actions.

There are 23 first instance courts (tribunais de primeira instância), which are divided in civil courts, criminal courts, labour courts and commercial courts, according to the subject and in central or local sections according to the value.

Reference should also be made to the existence of courts with extensive territorial jurisdiction that have specialised jurisdiction and know of specific subjects: (i) Courts Enforcement services (officers); (ii) the Maritime Court, based in Lisbon; (iii) the Intellectual Property Court, headquartered in Lisbon; (iv) Competition, Regulation and Supervision Tribunal, with headquarters in Santarém; and (v) the Central Criminal Court, headquartered in Lisbon, and (vi) Justices of Peace, extrajudicial courts that adopt a simplified procedure for the rapid resolution of disputes.

Justices of Peace decide on non-personal matters whose value does not exceed EUR. 15,000.


The Circle Administrative Courts and the Tax Courts decide on disputes against public authorities involving public authorities’ decisions and on acts involving tax matters.

The bodies of the administrative and tax jurisdiction are: (i) the Supreme Administrative Court; (ii) the Central Administrative Courts; and (iii) the Circle Administrative Courts and the Tax Courts.

The Supreme Administrative Court, the higher court for public law and tax matters, is divided in two sections: the administrative section and the tax section.

The Central Administrative Courts are the second instance courts for the administrative jurisdiction. The South-Central Administrative Court is located in Lisbon and the North Central Administrative Court in Oporto.

These Courts decide on the appeals of decisions made by Circle Administrative Courts and by Tax Courts.

The Circle Administrative Courts and Tax Courts decide, in the first instance, on the proceedings of administrative and tax jurisdiction that deal with administrative matters.


In general, courts have the power to issue decisions regarding any matter to be determined in the proceedings, which include the powers to order the payment of sums of money (in any currency), grant injunctions against the parties, order the performance of contractual obligations, order the rectification, setting aside or cancellation of deeds or other documents, declare divorces, order the division of assets caused by the death of his owner, etc.

Courts may also, following a request of an interested party or on their own accord:

  • Know exceptions that prevent the court from knowing the merits of the case or that consist of invoking facts that prevent, modify or extinguish the legal effect of the facts articulated by the author;
  • Declare protective orders;
  • Inspect things or persons in order to clarify any fact that is of interest to the decision of the case, and may go to the place of the question or order reconstitution of the facts, when it deems it necessary; or;
  • Requiring a party to make an interim payment on account of the claim or to pay the costs of the process.
The claim and the defence

Litigation begins when the plaintiff files a petition to the court (petição inicial), detailing what the defendant has done or failed to do that caused damage to the plaintiff, specifying the basis, factual and legal, for his claim against the defendant.

After being served with a plaintiff’s claim, the defendant has a 30-day deadline to respond to the plaintiff. The defence is always provided in writing in the form of a briefing addressed to the court (contestação).


The preliminary hearing

After the claim and defence are filed in court, the judge will schedule a «pre-trial» meeting to attempt a settlement between the parties and consider any delaying objections alleged and, if possible, the merits of the case.

If the settlement fails, the «pre-trial» meeting will serve to discuss the facts and matter of law of the case, where the judge may decide on procedural questions or immediately on the merits of the case, determine the terms of the dispute and schedule the final hearing.


The trial

The final hearing starts with an attempt of settlement between the parties. If the settlement fails, the final hearing continues with the submission of evidence, which may include the depositions of the parties, expert testimonies and the depositions of witnesses.

Within 30 days after the final hearing, the court will rule on the case.


Challenging the decision

Judgments of the courts may be appealed depending on the value and of the subject matter. Decisions in actions on the status of persons or in actions for allocation of the house of family dwelling are always subject to appeal.

Common reasons for challenging a court’s decision are errors in the interpretation or application of the law by the court or disregard of evidence.

Depending on the circumstances, the Court of Appeal will either confirm the ruling, reverse the ruling, or order the court of first instance to conduct a new trial.

After a ruling is given by the Court of Appeal, the parties may also appeal to the Supreme Court of Justice (recurso de revista), except the decision of the Court of Appeal that confirms the decision of the Court of First Instance.


Claim costs include the judicial fees, the winning party costs and other costs incurred during the proceeding, such as experts’ fees.

The Constitution of the Portuguese Republic guarantees access to the courts to all citizens, but this does not mean that the judicial services are free of charge, only that the cost to pay is not so high that it considerably hinders the access to justice. This does not mean, however, that the procedural costs correspond or cover the actual costs of the proceedings.

Judicial costs must be paid for each court action, the amount of which depends on the value of the case.

The court fees must be paid at the beginning of the lawsuit. However, if the case value exceeds €2750 an additional payment may be required at the end.

Court fees depend on the value of the action, for example:

  • For a court action worth €50,000: €242;
  • For a court action worth €100,000: €2,754;
  • For a court action worth €250,000: €4,284.

The party costs are the legal expenses incurred by the winning party and will be borne by the losing party if the winning party so requests. The amounts are subject to a justifying note discriminating each one of them, which must contain all the essential elements relating to the case and the parties.

The estimated party costs for the losing party would be, e.g.:

  • In a court action worth €50.,000: €1,428;
  • In a court action worth €100,000: €1,836;
  • In a court action worth €250,000: €2,856.

Typically, the cost of appeals is about 50% of the cost of a first instance claim. In total the cost of an action plus appeals up to the Supreme Court would cost approximately 3.6% of the claim value for claims worth above €250,000. If the decision is overturned the appealed decision costs revert to the losing party.

The World Bank «Doing Business 2020» Report estimates that court fees in Portugal correspond to 17.2% (lower than the OECD average of 21.5%) of a claim worth approximately €36,691, including court costs, enforcement costs and lawyers' fees. For higher value claims, the total cost is usually lower than this estimate.

Relevant legislation

Constitution of the Portuguese Republic [Portuguese] [English]

Code of Civil Procedure [Portuguese Only]

Administrative Proceedings Code [Portuguese Only]

Code of Tax Procedure and Proceedings [Portuguese Only]

Voluntary Arbitration Law [Portuguese Only]


Macedo Vitorino's briefings

«Negotiating a Corporate Restructuring» (2021) 


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