Mexico's judiciary, both federal and state, has been a separate branch of government since independence. Federal courts include the Supreme Court, with 21 magistrates; 32 circuit tribunals, and 98 district courts, with one judge each. Special courts include a fiscal tribunal and boards of conciliation and arbitration.
Supreme Court magistrates are appointed for life by the president, with the approval of the Senate, and can be removed only by a guilty verdict after impeachment. The other justices are appointed for six years by the Supreme Court magistrates. The Supreme Court has both original and appellate jurisdiction in four divisions: administrative, civil, labor, and penal. Circuit courts hear appeals from the district courts.
The jury system is not commonly used in Mexico, but judicial protection is provided by the Writ of Amparo, which allows a person convicted in the court of a local judge to appeal to a federal judge. Capital punishment, except in the army for crimes against national security, was abolished by the penal code of 1 January 1930.
Although the judiciary is constitutionally independent and judges are appointed for life (unless dismissed for cause), there have been charges that judges are sometimes partial to the executive. Low pay and high caseloads contribute to a susceptibility to corruption in the judicial system. In unprecedented moves in 1993, the government issued an arrest warrant for obstructing justice and for bribery against a former Supreme Court Justice and three federal judges were dismissed for obstructing justice.
In 1995, Congress passed a judicial reform law. The judicial reform law provides for a competitive examination for selecting most lower and appellate federal court judges and law secretaries. The Supreme Court has the authority to strike down a law for unconstitutionality. The judicial reform law provides that the Supreme Court may declare a law unconstitutional when one-third of the congress, one-third of a state congress, or the Attorney General asks the Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of the law.
The judicial trial system is based on the Napoleonic Code and consists of a series of fact-gathering hearings. The record of the proceeding is not available to the public.
After the 2000 presidential election and the end of PRI control of the presidency, the Supreme Court and the judicial power in general has shown signs of greater autonomy and more independence from the elected authorities. The judiciary has consolidated as an independent power of the Mexican state.