Justice is administered by both federal and provincial courts. The former deal only with cases of a national character or those to which different provinces or inhabitants of different provinces are parties. The Supreme Court, which supervises and regulates all other federal courts, is composed of nine members nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Other federal courts include nine appellate courts, with three judges for each; single-judge district courts, at least one for each province; and one-judge territorial courts. The federal courts may not decide political questions. Judges of the lower courts are appointed by the president.
Provincial courts include supreme courts, appellate courts, courts of first instance, and minor courts of justices of the peace (alcaldes) and of the market judges. Members of provincial courts are appointed by the provincial governors. Trial by jury was authorized by the 1853 constitution for criminal cases, but its establishment was left to the discretion of congress, resulting in sporadic use.
A 1991 law provides a fund for compensating prisoners who were illegally detained during the 1976–83 military dictatorship. In 1992, a system of oral public trials was instituted in order to speed up the judicial process while improving the protection of procedural rights of criminal defendants.
In practice, there is not a truly independent judiciary. The courts lack power to enforce orders against the executive and federal judges who actively pursue charges of police or military corruption. In 1989, President Menem, in a court-packing maneuver, expanded the number of Supreme Court justices from five to nine. Most recently, shortly after taking office, current president Néstor Kirchner signaled his intention to remove some of Menem's appointees and to strengthen the judiciary by undoing some of Menem's moves that turned the Supreme Court into a political ally of the president rather than an autonomous power of the state. A constitutional accusation against the Menem-appointed Supreme Court president was underway in mid-2003.
The constitution prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence. The government respects these provisions. The constitution prohibits torture; however, police brutality remains a serious problem. The judicial system is subject to delays, resulting in lengthy pretrial detention.