Judicial authority rests with the Supreme Court, composed of nine magistrates and nine alternates, all appointed by the president (subject to approval by the Legislative Assembly) for 10-year terms. The Supreme Court magistrates appoint judges of the superior courts who in turn appoint circuit court judges in their respective jurisdictions. There are 4 superior courts, 18 circuit courts (one civil and one criminal court for each province), and at least one municipal court in each district.
At the local level, two types of administrative judges, "corregidores" and "night" (or "police") judges hear minor civil and criminal cases involving sentences under one year. Appointed by the municipal mayors, these judges are similar to Justices of the Peace. Their proceedings are not subject to the Code of Criminal Procedure and defendants lack procedural safeguards afforded in the regular courts.
The constitution guarantees a right to counsel for persons charged with crimes and requires the provision of public defenders for indigent criminal defendants. Trial by jury is afforded in some circumstances.
The 1996 amendment to the constitution abolished the standing military and contains a provision for the temporary formation of a "special police force" to protect the borders. The Judicial Technical Police perform criminal investigations in support of public prosecutors. The constitution also provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judiciary is susceptible to corruption.
The legal system is based on the civil law system. Panama accepts the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice with reservation.