The legal system in Benin was formerly based on French and customary law. However, on 4 September 1981, Kérékou announced the creation of people's courts presided over by a Central People's Court which would control all judicial activities under the supervision of the executive and legislature. Each district has a court with the power to try cases, and each province has a court that acts as an appeals and assizes court. At the lowest level, each commune, village, and city ward has its own court.
The 1990 constitution provided for establishment of a new Constitutional Court responsible for judicial review of the constitutionality of legislation and for deciding disputes between the president and the National Assembly. This court began functioning in 1993. The constitution also established a High Court of Justice to be responsible for hearing charges of crimes against the nation committed by the president or other government officials. The highest court for nonconstitutional judicial review under the new constitution is the Supreme Court. Under the constitution, detainees must be brought before a magistrate within 48 hours of arrest. The judiciary is independent and the government generally respects this constitutional provision in practice. The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial. Criminal defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence, the right to counsel, and the rights to confront witnesses and have access to government-held evidence. The members of the military may be tried in case of minor offenses at military disciplinary councils. These councils have no power to try civilians. The constitution prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence. The government respects these provisions. Police need a judicial warrant before entering a private home. Although these basic procedural rights are respected, the judiciary in Benin is curtailed by executive powers, inefficient, and susceptible to corruption at all levels.
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