The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but in practice courts are vulnerable to pressure from the government, though legal reforms are resulting in some changes. The court system consists of district courts of first instance, an Appeals Court, and a Court of Cassation. Judges for the local courts of first instance and the Court of Appeals began operating under a new judicial system in January 1999. Judges were selected for their posts based on examinations and interviews by the Minister of Justice, approval of a list of nominees by the Council of Justice, and approval by the president. Unless they are removed for malfeasance, they serve for life. About one-half of Soviet-era judges have been replaced. Prosecutors and defense attorneys also began retraining and recertification. A military bureaucracy continues to follow Soviet-era practices.
A Constitutional Court has the power to review the constitutionality of legislation, approves international agreements, and settles electoral disputes. Its effectiveness is limited. It only accepts cases referred by the president, two-thirds of the members of the legislature, or election-related cases brought by candidates in legislative or presidential races. The president appoints four of the nine judges of the Constitutional Court.
The constitution establishes a Council of Justice, headed by the president and including the prosecutor general, the minister of justice, and fourteen other members appointed by the president. The Council appoints and disciplines judges in courts of first instance and the Court of Appeals. A Council of Court Chairs has been created to reduce the power of the Ministry of Justice and increase the independence of the judicial system. It is responsible for financial and budgetary issues involving the courts, and consists of twenty-one senior judges.
The courts still apply the Soviet criminal code, though a new criminal code is planned to be implemented. Under this system, prosecutors have dominant authority to arrest, investigate and prosecute. A new criminal procedure code entered into force in January 1999 that specifies that a suspect may be detained for no more than twelve months pending trial, has the right to an attorney, right to a public trial and to confront witnesses, and the right to appeal.