The court system includes justices of the peace, courts of the first instance, intermediate level appellate courts, and the Supreme Court made up of 13 justices selected by the National Assembly. Other than justices of the peace, judges are appointed to renewable three-year terms. An 11-member National Council of the Judiciary, appointed by the National Assembly, is an independent body charged with screening judicial candidates for nomination.
According to the constitution, the Supreme Court is the court of last appeal; it passes on writs of habeas corpus, constitutionality of the laws, jurisdiction and administration of lower courts, and appointment of justices below the appellate level. There are also special courts, appointed by the National Assembly, and military tribunals, selected by the Supreme Court. The 1995 legislation provides for oral trials and establishes family and juvenile courts. The 1996 Criminal Procedure code replaces a criminal system based on civil law with one in which oral argument is the norm.
Under the constitution, defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence, to representation by legal counsel, to be present in court and to confront witnesses.
El Salvador accepts compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice with reservations.