According to the 1978 constitution, the judiciary is independent and subject only to the rule of law. The highest judicial body is the Supreme Court ( Tribunal Supremo ), the president of which is nominated by the 20 judges of the General Council of the Judiciary and appointed by the king.
Territorial high courts ( audiencias ) are the courts of last appeal in the 17 regions of the country; provincial audiencias serve as appellate courts in civil matters and as courts of first instance in criminal cases. On the lowest level are the judges of the first instance and instruction, district judges, and justices of the peace.
The National High Court ( Audiencia Nacional ), created in 1977, has jurisdiction over criminal cases that transgress regional boundaries and over civil cases involving the central state administration. The constitution of 1978 also established the twelve-member Constitutional Court ( Tribunal Constitucional ), with competence to judge the constitutionality of laws and decide disputes between the central government and the autonomous regions. The European Court of Human Rights is the final arbiter in cases concerning human rights.
Defendants in criminal cases have the right to counsel at state expense if indigent. The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Suspects may be held for no more than three days without a judicial hearing.
A jury system was established in 1995, and a new penal code was enacted in 1996.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial and the government respects this provision in practice.