There are courts of first instance, an appellate court, a Supreme Court, and a Constitutional Court. The Supreme Court is divided into civil and criminal sections.
The Constitutional Court was created in 1995. A 1995 judicial reform law provided for a system of appeals courts.
There are district courts of the first instance and five regional tribunals. The Higher Appeals Court and the Supreme Court are both in Chis¸inau. However, as of 2003, there was a backlog of cases at the tribunal and the Higher Appeals Court levels, due to lack of funding.
The Superior Court of Magistrates nominates and the president appoints judges for an initial period of five years. The judges may be reappointed for a subsequent 10 years and finally, on their third term, they serve until retirement age. The judiciary is more independent now than when it was subject to the Soviet regime. The Constitutional Court made several rulings in 1996 that demonstrated its independence. For example, in April 1996 the Constitutional Court found that the attempted dismissal of Defense Minister Creanga by President Snegur was unconstitutional. The Constitutional Court also overturned a Central Electoral Commission decision to exclude a presidential candidate from competing in the November 1996 election. And in 2000, the Court ruled that legislation requiring political parties to be registered for two years prior to participating in elections was unconstitutional.
Criminal defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and are afforded a number of due process rights, including a public trial and a right of appeal. In practice, a number of convictions have been overturned on appeal.