Minor legal matters may be brought before conciliators, while civil cases and lesser criminal cases are tried before judges called pretori . There are 159 tribunals, each with jurisdiction over its own district; 90 assize courts, where cases are heard by juries; and 26 assize courts of appeal. The Court of Cassation in Rome acts as the last instance of appeal in all cases except those involving constitutional matters, which are brought before the special Constitutional Court (consisting of 15 judges). For many years, the number of civil and criminal cases has been increasing more rapidly than the judicial resources to deal with them.
The law assuring criminal defendants a fair and public trial is largely observed in practice. The 1989 amendments to the criminal procedure law both streamline the process and provide for a more adversarial system along the American model.
By law the judiciary is autonomous and independent of the executive branch. In practice, there has been a perception that magistrates were subject to political pressures and that political bias of individual magistrates could affect outcomes. Since the start of "clean hands" investigations of the judiciary in 1992 for kickbacks and corruption, magistrates have taken steps to distance themselves from political parties and other pressure groups.