Under a 1991 decree the separate judicial systems of the former YAR and the former PDRY were unified at the Supreme Court level. A Supreme Judicial Council administers the judiciary, appointing and promoting judges and reviewing policies regarding the structure and functioning of the judicial system. There are courts of first instance, which hear civil, criminal, commercial, and family matters; decisions can be appealed to courts of appeal. The Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of laws, hears cases brought against high government officials, and is the last court of appeal for all lower court decisions. The judiciary, especially at the lower levels, is susceptible to pressure and influence from the executive branch. All laws are codified from Shari'ah , and there are no jury trials. In addition to regular courts, a system of tribal adjudication exists for some noncriminal issues, although the tribal "judges" often hear criminal cases as well.
The former YAR judicial system consisted of Shari'ah law and courts for criminal and family law areas administered in each district by a hakim and commercial law and courts for business matters. In remote areas, tribal law was applied in tribal courts. The Shari'ah courts applied Islamic law and litigants could appeal the decision of a hakim to another hakim , and from him take a final appeal to the Istinaf, the highest court of appeal, in Sana. Both sets of courts were considered generally fair and impartial. Former YAR state security courts were abolished with unification.
The former PDRY court system was organized in three tiers: magistrate or divisional courts, provincial courts, and military courts. Magistrate courts handled most criminal, juvenile, family, housing, agrarian, and other minor civil matters. Provincial courts handled more serious criminal cases, inheritance cases, major civil claims, and appeals from magistrates' courts. Shari'ah courts applying Islamic law and tribal courts applying traditional law also existed alongside the modern court system.