Under the 1959 constitution the Sultan is the head of state with full executive authority, and is assisted and advised by five councils, namely the Religious Council, the Privy Council, the Council of Cabinet Ministers, the Legislative Council and the Council of Succession.

The Sultan has occupied the position of prime minister since the resumption of independence in 1984. Also in 1984, the Legislative Council was suspended. Since then, the Sultan has ruled through emergency decree. He has sole power to amend the provisions of existing laws.

Brunei’s administrative system is centred on the prime minister’s office. The Sultan has followed a combination of traditional and reforming policies, moving away from a structure of a chief minister and state secretary to a full ministerial system with specified portfolios.

The Sultan is advised by several councils and a Cabinet of ministers although he is effectively the supreme ruler.

There have been no elections since 1962. In September 2004 a Legislative Council was disinterred and 21 members appointed, with no immediate timetable for election of the proposed 15 directly elected members. In September 2005 the Sultan dissolved the existing Legislative Council and appointed 29 new members.

There are two justice systems, which run parallel to each other; one is presided over by the Supreme Court and the other by the Sharia courts. The Supreme Court comprises the Court of Appeal and the High Court. Criminal cases that do not carry a death sentence and less serious civil cases are conducted by the intermediate courts before judges or the subordinate courts before magistrates.

Appeals are heard by the Court of Appeal, which in criminal cases is the final court of appeal. In civil cases, however, appeals may be made to the Privy Council in the United Kingdom. Judges are appointed by the Sultan for three-year terms.