The civilian court system is essentially a continuation of the Portuguese colonial system. Nine Supreme Court judges are appointed by the president and serve at his pleasure. The Supreme Court has jurisdiction over serious crimes and serves as an appeals court for the regional military courts. State security cases are tried by civilian courts. Military courts try only cases involving armed personnel under the code of military justice. In rural areas, persons are often tried outside the formal system by traditional law. Dispute resolution before traditional counselors avoids the costs and congestion of the official courts.
The 1991 constitution guarantees many civil rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but its functioning is hampered by a lack of training, resources and by corruption.
The president has authority to grant pardons and reduce sentences.