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Legal History of Bolivia

Plurinational State of Bolivia or Bolivia is a landlocked country in the western-central parts of South America. Bolivia’s constitutional capital is Sucre, where its judicial branch is, but the Executive and Legislature resides in La Paz. Bolivia is a constitutionally united sovereign state divided into nine departments. The country has a multi-ethnic population of about 11 million which is comprised of Europeans, Asians, Africans, Amerindians, and Mestizos. The official language is Spanish.


Bolivian society traces its origins to the advanced pre-Columbian civilizations of South America. Bolivia was, later, considered one of the modern republics. The glory was short-lived, though, because at the beginning of the 1800s the nation started to lose control over trade and production. Bolivia, which became a colony of Spain in the 1770s, eventually fought for its independence in 1809.


Post-independence Bolivia was in a war for 16 years, after which the republic was established on August 6, 1825. The first constitution was constituted in 1825 and centralized government with executive, legislature, and judiciary based on the United States model. Nonetheless, this constitution was never adopted. In the following year, Simon Bolivar Palacio framed a new constitution whose major point of difference with the original one was a fourfold separation of power among an independent judiciary, lifetime presidency, electoral body, and tri-cameral congress.

However, this constitution could not stand for long. In 1831, another constitution, which bicameralism the legislature introducing the Chamber of Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, was adopted. Lifetime presidency was replaced with four-year renewable mandate.

After the successful invasion of Peru by Bolivia, the 1836 Constitution of Peru Bolivian Confederation came into force, which lasted for 3 years. In decades that followed, the Bolivian political system was not stable and various kinds of power ruled the nation. Women have voted in Bolivian elections since 1938.

In 1952, there was a launch of the National Revolutionary Movement that threw anti-nationalists out of power. In 1966, General René Barrientos Ortuño overthrew the MNR heralding a new phase in Bolivian constitutional development. In 1967, a new constitution was adopted but is replaced by the one drafted and adopted in 2009.

Key features of the new constitution include recall provisions for all elected public officials, nationalization of certain economic sectors such as the gas industry, decentralization of power with four levels of autonomy (departmental, municipal, indigenous and regional), and the importance of ethnicity in Bolivia’s make up is re-emphasized through a whole chapter devoted to it. Since then, there have been many amendments in the constitution but the basic construct has not changed.


The Spanish Criminal Code was enforced in the nation of Bolivia in 1831. Later, in the year 1834, it was replaced by the Penal Code of 1834. In the year 1872, however, new Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure were adopted and both of these are still enforceable in Bolivia.

The announcement of the Supreme Court was, on the other hand, made in 1825 but it was officially inaugurated in 1827. The Supreme Court was the highest judicial authority in Bolivia till 2012 when it was replaced by the Supreme Court of Justice. Bolivia belongs to the “Roman-Germanic” system of law. This, under the concept of division of powers, the legislative branch has the power to create general legal norms and assigns to judges the function of applying these norms in concrete cases through their decisions.


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