Brazilian law is based on the legal system of civil law and concepts of civil law prevail over the practice of common law. Most Brazilian laws are codified, although the non-codified statutes also represent a substantial part, playing a complementary role. Judicial decisions establish interpretative guidelines; however, they are rarely binding in other specific cases. The doctrinal works and the works of academic jurists have a great influence in the creation of laws and in the cases of laws.

The legal system is based on the Federal Constitution, promulgated on October 5, 1988, and is the fundamental law of Brazil. All other laws and judicial decisions must comply with its rules. As of April 2007, there have been 53 amendments. The states have their own constitutions, which should not contradict the federal Constitution. The municipalities and the Federal District have “organic laws” (organic laws), which act in a similar way to constitutions. Legislative entities are the main source of statutes, although in certain matters judicial and executive bodies can enact legal norms. The jurisdiction is administered by judicial entities, although in exceptional situations, the Federal Constitution allows the Federal Senate to make legal judgments. There are also specialized military, labor and electoral courts. The highest court is the Supreme Federal Court.

This system has been criticized in recent decades for the slow pace of decision making. Appeals on appeal can take several years to resolve, and in some cases more than a decade elapses before final resolutions. However, the Supreme Federal Court was the first court in the world to broadcast its sessions on television and also on YouTube. More recently, in December 2009, the Supreme Court adopted Twitter to show the elements of the ministers’ daily planner, to inform the daily actions of the Court and the most important decisions they made.


The armed forces of Brazil are the largest in Latin America by active personnel and the largest in terms of military equipment. It consists of the Brazilian Army (including the Army Aviation Command), the Brazilian Navy (including the Marine Corps and Naval Aviation), and the Brazilian Air Force. Brazil’s recruitment policy gives it one of the largest military forces in the world, estimated at more than 1.6 million reservists per year.

The Brazilian army, which has almost 236,000 active employees, has the largest number of armored vehicles in South America, including armored personnel carriers and tanks. It is also unique in Latin America for its large elite forces that specialize in unconventional missions, the Special Operations Command of Brazil, and the versatile Strategic Rapid Action Force, composed of highly mobilized people and prepared the Special Operations Brigade, the Paratrooper of the Infantry Brigade, 1st Jungle Infantry Battalion (Airmobile) and the 12th Light Infantry Brigade (Airmobile) capable of acting anywhere in the country, at short notice, to counteract external aggression. The Military Police of the states and the Military Fire Department are described as auxiliary forces of the Army by the constitution, but are under the control of the governor of each state.

The Navy of Brazil, the second largest in America, once operated some of the most powerful warships in the world with the two battleships Minas Geraes class, which sparked a race of South American battleships between Argentina, Brazil and Chile. Today, it is a green water force and has an elite group specialized in retaking ships and naval facilities, GRUMEC, a unit specially trained to protect Brazilian oil platforms along its coast. It is the only marina in Latin America that operates an aircraft carrier, NAe São Paulo, and one of the ten marinas in the world to operate one.

The Air Force is the largest in Latin America and has about 700 manned aircraft in service and an effective staff of around 67,000.

Brazil has not been invaded since 1865 during the Paraguayan war. In addition, Brazil does not have contested territorial disputes with any of its neighbors and has no rivalries, as Chile and Bolivia have with each other. The Brazilian army has also intervened three times militarily to overthrow the Brazilian government. It has built a tradition of participation in UN peace missions, such as in Haiti, East Timor and the Central African Republic.