In addition to the legislative and the administrative branches, the judiciary is considered to be the third pillar in a country under the rule of law. The Federal Constitutional Act ensures that the judicial system is separate from the administrative system on all levels. Austria’s judicial system includes ordinary courts, the public prosecution offices, the prisons (institutions for penal service, as well as court prisons) as well as the probationary facilities.
Courts are state institutions which decide in a formal procedure on civil law claims and criminal law charges. They are set up by law and managed by judges, who are independent, cannot be removed or transferred from office, are impartial, and only bound by the legal system.
The public prosecution offices are special bodies separate from the courts. They mainly safeguard the public interests in the administration of criminal justice by heading preliminary proceedings, deciding on indictments and acting as prosecutors in criminal proceedings before the courts. In exercising their function, they are independent of the courts.
Prisons are responsible for enforcing penal sentences. The probationary facilities are also part of the judicial system. They take care of persons with conditional sentences and prisoners released on probation. These tasks have mostly been transferred to private organisations, which are under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Constitutional Affairs, Reforms, Deregulation and Justice.
The judicial administration is headed by the Federal Minister of Constitutional Affairs, Reforms, Deregulation and Justice; the Federal Ministry of Constitutional Affairs, Reforms, Deregulation and Justice reports to the Minister. He is one of the supreme administrative organs of the Federal State and a member of the Federal Government. He is responsible for the political management, coordination and supreme supervision of the Ministry and of all associated service units.
The Federal Constitutional Act assigns the tasks of regular jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters (including prosecution in criminal matters, penal services, and judicial administration) exclusively to Federal competence. For the area of administration there are administrative courts both on a Federal and on a Provincial level.