How the Croatian legislation system and courts work

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New court house in Zagreb, Croatia
New courthouse in Zagreb, Croatia

PUBLISHED: 18.3.2024.

The Croatian legislation system is based on civil law, mainly following its predecessors: Austrian, Hungarian, and Yugoslav law. Since Croatia entered the European Union, many laws have been changed to comply with EU laws.

The Croatian parliament has legislative power, which means they can vote on bills regarding new laws or adjustment of laws in the parliament. On the other hand, Croatian courts are independent and autonomous, and they are in charge of administering the law.

In this article, we cover:

The facts are these…

Difference between the Croatian legal system and the rest of the world

There are three main types of legal systems in the world:

  • Civilno/kontinentalno pravo (civil/continental law)
  • Običajno pravo (common law)
  • Vjersko pravo (religious law)

The legal systems of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia rely on common law rooted in customs. In contrast, most European countries follow civil law built upon civil codes.

Civil law in Europe traces its roots back to Roman law, which provided the foundational structure for this legal framework. This system, named after the Latin term jus civile, translating to citizen’s law, is the most widely employed legal system globally.

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Fun fact

Here are more examples of Latin legal terms: ad hoc, affidavit, alter ego, bona fide, de facto, ergo, et al., et cetera, exempli gratia (e. g.), inter alia, mala fide, modus operandi, nota bene, persona non grata, pro bono, quid pro quo, subpoena, veto, vice versa.

Like most European countries, Croatia has its constitution called Ustav Republike Hrvatske, also called Božićni ustav (Christmas Constitution), because it was passed on December 22, 1990. It is the foundation of all laws passed by the legislature.

The constitution is followed by laws such as the Kazneni zakon (Criminal Law Act) or Zakon o radu (Labor Act) and bylaws such as various decrees, regulations, orders, and instructions. Contact us if you have any questions regarding Croatian laws and our English-speaking lawyer network will help you solve your case.

On July 1, 2013, Croatia became a member of the European Union. Its goal is to create a unified internal market based on a standardized legal framework and legislation that applies in all member states in those matters where the states have agreed to act as one.

Laws made by the EU institutions are passed in two forms:

  • Regulations – they come into force without the necessity for national implementation
  • Directives – they require national implementation

Croatian judicial system – types of Croatian courts

Croatian courts protect the legal order of the Republic of Croatia established by the Constitution, the acquis of the European Union, international treaties, and laws. They also ensure the uniform application of rights and equality of all before the law.

The Croatian judicial system is governed by the Zakon o sudovima (Law on Courts), which you can view here. It regulates the organization, scope, and actual jurisdiction of the courts, their internal organization, judges’ rights and duties, and supervision of judicial administration and inspection.

[Read: How laws are made in Croatia]

Here is the hierarchy of the courts in Croatia:

  • Vrhovni sud (Supreme Court) – website
    • Visoki kazneni sud (High Criminal Court) – website
    • Visoki prekršajni sud (High Misdemeanor Court) – website
    • Županijski sudovi (County Courts) – website
      • Općinski sudovi (Municipal Courts) – website
    • Visoki trgovački sud (High Commercial Court) – website
      • Trgovački sudovi (Commercial Courts) – website
    • Visoki upravni sud (High Administrative Court) – website
      • Upravni sudovi (Administrative Courts) – website

A list of all courts in Croatia is available here.

A court’s jurisdiction is defined by rules on material and local jurisdiction. Material jurisdiction specifies the court type based on the nature of the case, outlining the scope of different courts and their ranks according to subjects, dispute nature, and value. Local jurisdiction designates which court handles a case based on the residence or headquarters of the individuals involved, whether they are legal or natural persons.

[Read: Available visas and residence permits for Croatia]

Second-instance courts in Croatia, such as the High Commercial Court and the High Administrative Court, handle appeals and special matters. They may resolve cases or send them back for retrial after pointing out deficiencies. These courts also settle jurisdiction conflicts among lower courts.

First-instance courts, generally presided over by a single sudac (judge), may involve sudska vijeća (trial chambers) based on legal requirements. Higher-level courts, however, typically employ trial chambers, with exceptions allowing a single judge.

Following the law, sudski savjetnici (court advisors) and suci porotnici (lay judges) participate in trials alongside professional judges. Criminal procedures usually involve panels consisting of one professional judge and two lay judges, with some exceptions.

Lay judges in Croatia are distinct from common law juries. They serve a 4-year term, can be called multiple times, and are appointed for both criminal and civil cases. Unlike common law juries, lay judges decide on facts, apply legal norms, and determine guilt and sanctions alongside professional judges. In common law, the jury only decides on facts and guilt, while the judge delivers the sentence.

We can put you in touch with our expat-vetted lawyers to help you with your litigation or bureaucratic procedure with high expertise and knowledge. To get an introduction, fill out this short form and we will help you get started.

The Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia

The Supreme Court ensures uniform application of law and equality of all in its application. This court decides on regular legal remedies when prescribed by a special law, extraordinary legal remedies against final decisions of Croatian courts, and jurisdiction conflict when a special law prescribes it. It also performs other tasks specified by law.

High Criminal Court of the Republic of Croatia

The High Criminal Court of the Republic of Croatia is the second-instance authority for appeals against decisions made by county courts in criminal cases. In addition to its primary responsibility in handling appeals, this court undertakes various other tasks stipulated by law. It reinforces the integrity and reliability of the criminal justice system in the country.

High Misdemeanor Court of the Republic of Croatia

The High Misdemeanor Court of the Republic of Croatia oversees and ensures the proper administration of misdemeanor justice. It decides on appeals of municipal court decisions in misdemeanor cases and decisions of public law bodies initiating the first-instance misdemeanor procedure.

The court also plays a crucial role in resolving conflicts of competencies among municipal courts in misdemeanor cases, contributing to the coherence of legal proceedings.

[Read: How to create a legally binding contract in Croatia]

County courts

County courts, as first-instance courts, resolve cases, conduct investigative and notarial disciplinary proceedings for disciplinary offenses, and decide on these offenses. They resolve appeals against decisions of municipal courts and decide on appeals against decisions in disciplinary proceedings due to irregularities in the performance of notary public duties and other tasks specified by the law.

[Read: How to get something notarized in Croatia]

Municipal courts

Municipal courts, as first-instance courts, settle litigation, non-litigation, and enforcement cases, handle probate cases and land registry cases and keep land records, resolve criminal and misdemeanor cases specified by the law, decide on recognition and enforcement of foreign court orders and other tasks specified by the law.

[Read: How to correct or change property records with the land registry in Croatia]

They also handle divorce cases, name changes, issues with property sales, and probate hearings, which our lawyers can help you with. Learn how to get divorced in Croatia without kids here and with kids here, and how to register a marriage or divorce here.

High Commercial Court of the Republic of Croatia

The High Commercial Court of the Republic of Croatia plays a critical role within the Croatian legal system. It handles various responsibilities and focuses on ensuring fair and effective commercial justice. At the initial stage, it considers appeals against decisions made by commercial courts, providing a crucial avenue for reviewing and rectifying legal judgments.

Also, the High Commercial Court is instrumental in resolving conflicts related to territorial jurisdiction among commercial courts, offering clarity and consistency in legal proceedings.

[Read: Guide to All Types of Businesses in Croatia]

Commercial courts

Commercial courts handle registry affairs, maintain court registers, and make decisions regarding the establishment, operation, and dissolution of commercial companies. It addresses proposals for initiating bankruptcy proceedings and oversees pre-bankruptcy and bankruptcy processes.

Commercial courts also handle rental contracts and work contracts. You can view how to rent an apartment to tourists here and long-term tenants here. We also have a guide on applying for a work permit here and a seasonal work permit here.

The court adjudicates cases specified by the Maritime Code and facilitates the recognition of foreign court and arbitration decisions in commercial disputes. Additionally, it manages other legal matters stipulated by special acts, serving as versatile entities within the legal domain.

The High Administrative Court of the Republic of Croatia

The High Administrative Court, based in Zagreb, assumes jurisdiction over appeals against administrative court judgments, examines the lawfulness of general acts (bylaws), addresses conflicts of jurisdiction among administrative courts, and handles other cases stipulated by law.

Administrative courts

Administrative courts play an important role in addressing various legal matters, including lawsuits against individual decisions or actions of public authorities, disputes arising from the failure to issue a decision within the legally mandated time frame, and challenges related to administrative contracts.

European courts

European courts operate within a complex structure that ensures the following of European Union law within the European Union. This institution is called the Sud Europske unije (Court of Justice of the European Union).

Two main courts within this institution are:

  • Sud Europske unije (Court of Justice) – website
  • Opći sud (General Court) – website

The Court of Justice of the European Union

The Court of Justice of the European Union, also known as the European Court of Justice, holds the highest judicial authority in the EU. In collaboration with member states’ courts, it ensures the consistent application and interpretation of European Union law, with each member state represented by one judge.

The General Court

The General Court deals with initial cases not assigned to specialized courts or directly to the Court. It also handles appeals against judgments from specialized courts. The Court comprises a minimum of one judge from each member state.

Specialized courts

Specialized courts in the EU can be established for specific areas such as intellectual property, competition, or trade disputes. They handle initial cases and make judgments, allowing the option to appeal to the General Court.

European Court of Human Rights

The Europski sud za ljudska prava (European Court of Human Rights – ECHR) isn’t an EU court. It was created under the Council of Europe and operates based on the European Convention on Human Rights. The ECHR’s role is to ensure that the rights and freedoms outlined in the convention are respected.

Need help from an English-speaking lawyer in Croatia?

If you need legal advice or the help of a local lawyer who has been vetted, we can point you in the right direction. Our carefully curated lawyer network can manage your case from beginning to end.

We have excellent English-speaking lawyers nationwide who have multiple specialties and are in constant communication with the ministries. They handle cases involving Croatian citizenship and residence applications, property sales and purchases, rental and job contracts, divorces, company openings, name changes, corporate work, all kinds of litigation as well as marriage and birth registrations.

These are the same lawyers who help us vet all of our information on this site. You can learn how we built our lawyer network here.

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View other Croatian government articles

Frequently asked questions

Is Croatia civil law or common law?

The Croatian legal system is a civil law system. In civil law systems, laws are typically codified, and legal decisions are based on statutes and written codes rather than precedent. Similar legal systems exist in continental European countries like Austria and Hungary.

What is the legislative branch of Croatia?

Croatia’s legislative branch is the Sabor (Parliament), which is responsible for making laws, approving the budget, and overseeing the government’s activities. Members of the Sabor are elected by Croatian citizens using a proportional representation system.

How are laws created in Croatia?

The government can propose laws or individual members of the Sabor, and even citizens and interest groups can suggest legislation through petitions. Proposed bills undergo careful examination and discussion in parliamentary committees before being presented to the entire Sabor for debate and voting. A majority vote is needed for a bill to pass. After approval, the President reviews and signs the bill.

What is the court system in Croatia?

Croatian courts are organized in layers. Local courts handle everyday cases, while higher-level courts hear appeals. The highest court in the country is the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia, which handles issues regarding the constitution, ensuring equal justice for all and equal application of law.

Legislative procedure
Courts of the Republic of Croatia

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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