The 1960 Constitution entitles all Ivoirians to a fair public trial. That mandate was generally respected in urban areas; in rural villages, traditional institutions more commonly administered justice. Indigent defendants were also entitled to legal counsel by court-appointed attorneys. In practice, public defenders were often unavailable, and there was a vast difference between the representation accorded rich and poor clients. According to the Constitution, judges are subject only to the law, and the president, with the assistance of the Superior Council of Magistrates, is charged with ensuring the independence of the judiciary. Because the president of the republic controlled appointments to the courts, the judiciary seldom, if ever, opposed the president.
The judicial system bore the imprint of both the French legal and judicial traditions and, to a lesser extent, customary law. It consisted of two levels. The lower courts, all of which were created by presidential decree and exercised limited jurisdiction, included the courts of appeals, the courts of first instance, the courts of assize, and the justice of the peace courts. The five courts of first instance, which handled the bulk of trials, heard misdemeanor and minor criminal cases (with a maximum sentence of three months or less), juvenile cases, and civil cases. The courts consisted of a president, one or more vice-presidents, and one or more examining magistrates and trial judges, all of whom were appointed by the president of the republic. The courts were located in Abidjan, Bouaké, Daloa, Korhogo, and Man. Each had two or more delegated sections in larger towns within their respective jurisdictions. The courts of assize, which were paired with courts of first instance, handled only major criminal cases. At the lowest level were justice of the peace courts, presided over by justices of the peace who handled petty cases in civil, criminal, and customary law. The two courts of appeals, located in Abidjan and Bouaké, heard appeals from courts of first instance and courts of assize. The Abidjan court heard appeals from the Abidjan court of first instance and its delegated sections; the Bouaké court handled referrals from the other four courts of first instance.
The superior courts are mandated by the Constitution and have nationwide jurisdiction. They include the Supreme Court, the High Court of Justice and the State Security Court. The Supreme Court is separated into four sections handling, respectively, constitutionality of laws, administrative appeal, criminal appeal, and financial control of government services. The Constitution directs that the court include one president, three vice-presidents (one for each section except the constitutional), nine associate justices, one secretary general, and four secretaries. The Constitutional Section, which always met in closed session, reviewed laws that had been passed by the National Assembly but not yet promulgated. The section had fifteen days to complete its consideration of a bill. The president of the republic or the president of the assembly could forward requests for a constitutional review. The president of the republic could also submit government bills to the section for a constitutional hearing before they were submitted to the Council of Ministers. The Constitutional Section also supervised referenda as called for in the Constitution and ruled on the eligibility of candidates for the National Assembly. The president of the Supreme Court presided over sessions of the section, which also included the vice-presidents of the court and four persons noted for their juridical and administrative competence. These four could also be members of the court. Two of the four were appointed by the president of the assembly, and two were appointed by the president of the republic. The term of office was four years, and there was no provision for removal from office.
The Judicial Section was the highest court of appeals in criminal cases. The section consisted of one vice-president, four associate justices, and two secretaries. It was organized into civil and criminal divisions with three additional magistrates in each. The Administrative Section handled cases of alleged abuse of administrative power involving individuals in public administration. This section consisted of a vice-president and two associate judges. Unlike the judges in other sections, those in the administrative section were magistrates, but not necessarily members of the bench. Another section of the Supreme Court, the Audit and Control Section, monitored public expenditures and annually audited accounts of the state and its agencies. This section consisted of a vice-president, three associate justices, and one secretary .
The two other superior courts included the High Court of Justice and the State Security Court. The High Court of Justice was composed of members of the National Assembly who were elected to the court every five years, following each general election. The court was empowered to impeach the president of the republic for treason and to judge other members of the government for crimes or misdemeanors committed in the exercise of their official duties. Cases concerning crimes against state security were heard in the State Security Court.
All judges, as well as all employees of the Central Administration of the Ministry of Justice, comprised the professional judiciary. They were required to have obtained a bachelor of law degree and could not concurrently hold an elected office. A Superior Council of the Judiciary was responsible for assisting the president in the task of guaranteeing an independent judiciary. The council advised the president on nominations to the Supreme Court, on cases concerning judicial independence, and on disciplinary problems. It also advised the minister of justice on nominations to magistrate positions. The council's membership included members of the Constitutional Section of the Supreme Court and three magistrates, each appointed to two-year terms by the president from a list prepared by the minister of justice.
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