views updated


Ouvidores, judges in the captaincies of colonial Brazil. In the sixteenth century they were appointed by one of the Portuguese proprietors of colonial Brazil or by one of the military orders in areas under their control. Ouvidores had both judicial and administrative functions. Besides having the power to arrest, sentence, and punish lawbreakers within their jurisdiction, ouvidores could review the roll of citizens eligible to serve on municipal councils. As a result, they exercised considerable influence in the selection of municipal officers. An ouvidor did not need legal training, and they often were military officers.

In 1549 the king of Portugal centralized government in Brazil and gave the governor-general authority to appoint an ouvidor geral, a superior crown magistrate who could exercise authority over ouvidores. The ouvidor geral generally was a member of the royal magistracy, appointed by the king of Portugal, and had wide jurisdiction and powers. He had both judicial and administrative functions, including the power to spend funds from the colonial treasury.

In the twenty-first century, ouvidores can be found throughout ministerial branches at the federal, state, and municipal levels. They hear, transmit, and follow-up on complaints received within their offices.

See alsoJudicial Systems: Brazil; Portuguese Empire.


Stuart B. Schwartz, Sovereignty and Society of Colonial Brazil (1973).

Additional Bibliography

Sá, Adísia, Fátima Vilanova, and Roberto Maciel. Ombudsmen, ouvidores: Transparência, mediação e cidadania. Fortaleza: Edições Demócrito Rocha, 2004.

Russell-Wood, A.J.R. "Ambivalent Authorities: The African and Afro-Brazilian Contribution to Local Governance in Colonial Brazil" The Americas Vol. 57, No. 1 (July, 2000): 13-36.

                                          Ross Wilkinson