A Ministry of Justice was established in East Timor to guarantee an independent and impartial judiciary. A department of judicial affairs is responsible for the recruitment, appointment and training of judges, prosecutors and public defenders.
The Supreme Court of Justice is the highest court in the nation, with the power of judicial review. There is a High Administrative, Tax, and Audit Court, military courts, and the constitution provides for maritime and arbitration courts.
In March 2000, UNTAET created a civil law court system with 13 district courts and one national Court of Appeal. The law later was amended to include a court system of only four district courts and one national Court of Appeal. The four district courts are located in Dili, Baucau, Suai, and the Oecussi enclave. The district courts have jurisdiction over criminal and non-criminal offenses referred to as "ordinary crimes," whereas special panels within the Dili District court have exclusive jurisdiction over "serious criminal offenses."
As of October 2002, the court system in East Timor was limited in operation. The Court of Appeal was not functioning, due to delays in the recruitment and contracting of international judges, as well as the appointment of Timorese judges. A backlog of cases raised human rights concerns, as cases pending trial and appeal were unable to be heard within a reasonable amount of time.