The Chilean civil code of 1857, although modified and amended, remained in use until 1973. Although not eliminated by the military in the wake of the 1973 coup, the judicial system had almost all of its major powers removed, with the military code of justice in force as the effective law of the land. In 1975, the junta began to restore some of the traditional powers exercised by the 13-member Supreme Court.
The 1980 constitution, which came into full effect in 1989, provides for an independent judiciary. The Supreme Court, whose 21 members are appointed by the president with Senate approval, has authority over appellate and lower courts but does not exercise jurisdiction over the seven-member Constitutional Court and the five-member Electoral Court, which supervises all elections.
Although independent in theory, the judiciary remains subject to criticism for inefficiency and lack of independence. The Court's unwillingness to prosecute human rights violations during the military dictatorship cost the judicial system dearly and hindered its reputation. Appointees of the former military regime dominated the courts for most of the 1990s. By 2000, turnover had diminished the number of pro-Pinochet judges, and some judges were asserting their independence. In addition, a comprehensive reform adopted in 1997 has effectively strengthen the judiciary and made it more autonomous of the military and civilian authorities.
Military tribunals have jurisdiction over the military officers. Military courts have also authority to charge and try civilians for defamation of military personnel for sedition. In such cases, appeals can be made to the civilian Supreme Court. Reforms passed in 1991 (the "Cumplido" laws) transferred some of the jurisdiction of the military tribunals to the civilian courts
There is no jury trial. The legal system is mainly based on Napoleonic Code. The Constitution provides for the right to counsel.