The judicial system is based on English common law, Islamic law, and Napoleonic codes subject to judicial review by the Supreme Court and the Council of State, which oversees the validity of administrative decisions. A tension between civil law derived from France and competition from promoters of Islamic law exists. Recently, Islamic activists succeeded in amending the constitution to state that Shari'ah (Islamic) law is in principle the sole source of legislation. Formerly, Shari'ah applied primarily to Muslims with regard to family, personal status, and inheritance matters. Egypt accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations.
Simple police offenses, misdemeanors, and civil cases involving small amounts are subject to the jurisdiction of single-judge summary tribunals. The trial courts of the central tribunals, consisting of three justices each, sit in cases exceeding the jurisdiction of summary courts and also consider appeals. Traffic in narcotics and press offenses, considered serious crimes, are tried by the courts of appeals of the central tribunals in the first instance, sitting as assize courts. There are seven courts of appeals—at Cairo, Alexandria, Tanta, Al-Mansurah, Asyut, Bani-Souef, and Ismailia—which sit in chambers of three judges. The highest tribunal is the Court of Cassation, composed of 30 justices, which sits in panels of at least 5 justices.
The 1971 constitution declares that the judiciary is independent of other state powers and that judges are independent and not subject to enforced retirement. The Supreme Constitutional Court is responsible for enforcing adherence to laws and regulations and for interpreting legislation and the constitution. The Office of the Socialist Public Prosecutor is responsible to the People's Assembly for the security of the people's rights, the integrity of the political system, and other matters.
The president appoints all civilian judges, from nominations by the Supreme Judicial Council, a body designed to assure the independence of the judiciary and composed of senior judges, lawyers, law professors, and the president of the Court of Cassation. Judges are appointed for life, with mandatory retirement at age 64. The judiciary has demonstrated a good degree of independence from the executive branch; for example, it handed down recent decisions invalidating bans on political parties.
The State of Emergency in place since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat (and most recently extended in 2003) has led to detention without due process for many persons. Emergency security courts try suspected terrorists whose only recourse upon conviction is an appeal for clemency to the president or prime minister.