The legal system is based on Roman-Dutch law and has been influenced by the system of South Africa. A four-member Supreme Court, headed by the chief justice, has original jurisdiction over alleged violations of fundamental rights guaranteed in the constitution and appellate jurisdiction over other matters. There is a High Court consisting of general and appellate divisions. Below the High Court are regional magistrate's courts with civil jurisdiction and magistrate's courts with both civil and criminal jurisdiction. Before independence, separate African courts had jurisdiction over cases involving traditional law and custom. Beginning in 1981, these courts were integrated into the national system.
The chief justice of the High Court is appointed by the president upon recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission. The Commission also advises the president on the appointment of the other judges.
In 1990 the Customary Law and Local Courts Act established a unitary court system made up of headmen's courts, chiefs' courts, magisterial courts, the High Court, and the Supreme Court. Under this system, customary law cases can be appealed through all levels to the Supreme Court.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial and the judiciary rigorously enforces this right. However, under Mugabe, the judiciary's reputation for independence from the executive branch has been compromised as the executive has refashioned the courts to conform with its dictates. Nevertheless, the High Court ruled in favor in several of the MDC's elections petitions alleging violence and intimidation that obstructed the election process.