Local courts apply traditional law and customs in the chiefdoms. Elected indigenous leaders preside over the local courts. Magistrates hold court in the various districts and in Freetown, administering the English-based code of law. Appeals from magistrates' courts are heard by the High Court, which also has unlimited original civil and criminal jurisdiction. Appeals from High Court decisions may be made to the Court of Appeal and finally to the Supreme Court, consisting of a chief justice and not fewer than three other justices. The attorney general is a cabinet minister and head of the state law office, which is administered by the solicitor-general. Many of the justices, magistrates, and other lawyers are Sierra Leoneans trained in British universities or at Inns of Court in London. Judges serve until the age of 65.
The National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) formed after the 1992 military coup has not altered the previously existing judicial system, but it has set up special commissions of inquiry to handle some cases. A 1992 decree authorized the government to create a Special Military Tribunal to try persons involved in "rebellion" against the NPRC or who commit serious crimes. In 1993, the decree was amended to permit appeal from the Tribunal to the courts. The military courts system is based on British military codes and common law.
The judiciary is not independent in practice and remains subject to manipulation. A decade of war destroyed much physical infrastructure and seriously damaged the human capacity of Sierra Leone's judiciary.