The Constitution of 1985 established an independent judiciary and a human rights ombudsman. Courts of ordinary jurisdiction are the nine-member Supreme Court, 10 courts of appeals, 33 civil courts of first instance, and 10 penal courts of first instance. There is also a Constitutional Court. Judges of the Supreme Court and courts of appeals are elected for four-year terms by the National Congress from lists prepared by active magistrates, the Bar Association and law school deans. Judges of first instance are appointed by the Supreme Court. Courts of private jurisdiction deal separately with questions involving labor, administrative litigation, conflicts of jurisdiction, military affairs, and other matters. An independent tribunal and office of accounts supervises financial matters of the nation, the municipalities, and state-supported institutions, such as the National University. A new criminal procedural code affording stronger due process protections took effect in July 1994. Trials are public. Defendants have the rights to counsel, to be presumed innocent, and to be released on bail.
Because military courts retain control of military personnel who commit crimes while on official business, it has been difficult to pursue actions in civil court cases involving human rights abuses by the military.