The 1993 constitution declares the independence of the judiciary from the other branches of government. Thus far, however, the courts remain under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice and continue to operate mostly under Soviet-era laws and procedures. Some judicial reforms are being introduced, such as a separate judicial budget and more judicial training. There are three levels of criminal courts: local courts, which handle petty crimes; provincial courts, which consider most categories of crime, and the appellate supreme court. Traditional elders' courts may also handle petty crimes in rural areas. Defendants in elders' courts may appeal to the local administrative court.
A state prosecutor, or procurator, remains responsible for criminal arrests, investigations, and presentations before a panel consisting of a judge and two people's assessors (pensioners or members of labor collectives). Since 1990 there has been a right to have legal counsel in criminal cases. In 1996, the constitutional court ruled that only the defense has the right of appeal. Counteracting these restrictions on prosecutorial power, the law continues to allow judges to remand a case to the procurator for further investigation, rather than to declare the defendant guilty or innocent.
Judges hold varying terms of office. Constitutional court judges are appointed to fifteen-year terms, supreme court judges to ten-year terms, and first-term local court judges to three-year terms by recommendation of the president and confirmation by the Jogorku Kenesh (legislature). The 1993 constitution instituted a Western concept of judicial review by a constitutional court which did not exist under the former Soviet regime. Formed in 1993, the constitutional court reviews legislation and administrative acts for consistency with the constitution. It also considers cases on appeal involving individual rights and liberties of citizens. Constitutional court decisions are final. There is also a higher court of arbitration and a system of lower courts for economic cases.