The High Council of the Magistrature, founded in 1960 and headed by the president, determines the constitutionality of laws and international commitments and decides when members of the legislature and the executive have exceeded their authority. A 16-member High Court of Justice, founded in 1962 and elected by the National Assembly from among its own members, presides over impeachment proceedings. The Supreme Court, founded in 1960, is made up of members appointed by the president of the republic on the advice of the High Council of the Magistrature. In June 1973, a Court of State Security was set up to deal with political offenses. Criminal cases are essentially subject to French criminal law. Petty offenses are dealt with by justices of the peace in each department; ranked next in the judicial system are courts of first instance in each region. There are assize courts in Dakar, Kaolack, Saint-Louis, and Ziguinchor and a Court of Appeal in Dakar. There is also a military court system and a special court for the repression of the unlawful accumulation of wealth.
The constitution declares the independence of the judiciary, from the executive, the legislature and the armed forces. Judges are appointed by the president after nomination by the minister of justice. In practice, low pay and political ties make magistrates vulnerable to outside pressures.
Criminal defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty and are afforded public trials, and the right to legal counsel, among other procedural rights. Muslims have the right to choose customary law or civil law for cases involving family inheritance.
The legal system is based on French civil law. In 1992 the Supreme Court was replaced by the Council of State for Administrative Questions, the Constitutional Council, and a Court of Appeals.