The Rwandan legal system is based on Belgian and German civil codes and customary law. There are courts of the first instance, provincial courts, courts of appeal, and a court of cassation. Also functioning are a constitutional court composed of the court of cassation and a council of state; a court of accounts, which examines public accounts; and a court of state security for treason and national security cases.
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, certain provisions also give the executive branch and the president authority to appoint and dismiss judges. In practice, the courts are susceptible to government influence and manipulation.
The constitution guarantees defendants the right to counsel. A shortage of attorneys, however, leaves many criminal defendants unrepresented. In many regions the chaos resulting from the 1994 civil war has disrupted the normal functioning of the judicial system. As of late 1996 the judicial system was functioning on a limited basis. The government asked for help from the international community to rebuild the judiciary and appoint lower court officials.