Relevant changes in Venezuelan Maritime Jurisdiction

Before 2006 and despite the established in the local regulations (of 2000 with the organic law of aquatic spaces) which orders the justice administration the creation of 5 courts with exclusive maritime competence (located in: Maracaibo, Punto Fijo, Puerto Cabello, La Guaira, Puerto La Cruz and Puerto Ordaz) and 3 superior courts in each region (west, central and east) to resolve maritime courts appeals with judges specialists in maritime law, maritime controversies were resolved by ordinary civil and commercial courts which. On 2006, around 30 years of efforts by the maritime sector rendered results with the creation of the maritime court and superior maritime court with national competence which, according to the experts in the matter, meant a significant improvement on the jurisdiction considering the specialization required by the maritime matters and the exact knowledge required in judges in order to ensure and efficient justice administration.
The only criticism generated because of the creation of the maritime court was the fact that it was only one court with national competence (despite the local rules mandate) could affect small parties possibility to access the justice system considering the remote locations of some ports, the distance and resources required to attend trials in Caracas and in general the cost involved to attend matters in Caracas (which by the way isn’t a port city). This was justified by the fact of the low number of maritime controversies which arrives to court and the high cost to maintain 5 courts with such low amount of cases to resolve. This system was enforced until May 3rd 2017.
On this date, the Supreme Court issued the resolution N°2017-0011 which established a new scheme for the maritime competence. According to this resolution, the maritime competence is now with 8 first instance civil, commercial, banker and transit courts with territorial compentence on the following states: Anzoategui (Puerto La Cruz), Bolivar (Puerto Ordaz), Carabobo (Puerto Cabello=, Falcon (Punto Fijo), Nueva Esparta (Porlamar), Sucre (Cumana), Trujillo (La Ceiba) and Zulia (Maracaibo) and superior civil courts in the said locations. According to experts opinion, this takes us back 30 years in time into the original and archaic status and given that the judges with the competence aren’t specialized in maritime rules (despite the local regulations: Organic law for aquatic spaces art. 127), the maritime justice will not be adequate and the jurisdiction will have a much lower quality given the breach of the principle of specialty and the technical requirements that such courts should have on the matter. Furthermore, experts also say that this resolution also represents a breach of art. 49 of the Venezuelan constitution which establishes the principle of the natural judge as part of the right to due process. They claim that civil and commercial judges with no specialization aren’t natural judges for maritime matters.
The Supreme Court justified this change with the principle of access to justice and critics mentioned above but is evident that they´re using a sublegal rule to derogate a legal rule which is a common practice by administrative authorities in Venezuela. It was also ordered that all pending maritime matters will be resolved with the court in Caracas and that all new matters will be filed in the respective competent court.
As this circular was issued the situation remains in development and therefore we will continue to update all parties on any further relevant changes made by the justice administration. Some parties, including the Venezuelan association for marine law requested formally the Supreme Court to revise this resolution and we expect their request to be heard.
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In the following pages we include the resolution which made the relevant changes we mention in this circular.
Carlos Carrasco
Operations Manager
Venepandi, C.A.

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