The Central 46 (Chūō Shijūroku) is an organization that serves as the judiciary authority of the Soul Society. Operating under a mandate from the Soul King, the influence of the Central 46 goes well beyond the boundaries of a judiciary authority and into those of legislative and operative authorities.
The Central 46 is comprised of forty wise men, gathered from all over the Soul Society, and six judges. These men are in charge of trying all Shinigami crimes, whether they were committed in Soul Society or the Human World. The Central 46 are also within their jurisdiction to order the use of deadly force by the Gotei 13, the Onmitsukidō or the Kidō Corps. Once a decision has been made, it is rarely overturned. While Soul Society has its own royal family and king, they reside within a distinct dimension outside of Soul Society and their rule is not felt by Soul Society's residents. The Central 46 receives a mandate from the Soul King to act in his place and so are considered for all intents and purposes as the royal and the ruling class of Soul Society. However, the Central 46 have no jurisdiction over the Royal Guard or the Shin'ō Academy. Upon their deaths at the hands of Sōsuke Aizen during the Ryoka Invasion, Captain-Commander Yamamoto has taken over their normal duties. Some time later, the Central 46 is reassembled and resumes performing its judiciary duties.
After the Wandenreich's attack on Seireitei and the death of Captain-Commander Yamamoto, the Central 46 appoints Captain Shunsui Kyōraku to take over the position of Captain-Commander of the Gotei 13 and be the new captain of the 1st Division. When Kyōraku later meets with the Central 46, they debate and argue with his decisions to have both Nanao Ise and Genshirō Okikiba serve as co-lieutenants as well as his first major decision as Captain-Commander to have Captain Kenpachi Zaraki trained in Zanjutsu. They ultimately have no choice but to accept Kyōraku's decision, given the preexisting rule of Gotei 13 captains being allowed to appoint their lieutenants and because of Soul Society's current inability to survive yet another invasion by the Wandenreich. Five days later, Shunsui meets with Central 46 once more and negotiates the release of Aizen to help combat Yhwach and the Sternritter, on the condition that he embeds the key to Muken in his heart so it will be locked for all eternity if Aizen betrays and kills him.
The residential district of the Central 46 is an enclave in Seireitei called Seijōtōkyorin (Tranquil Forest of Residential Towers) inside the Central 46 Compound. This enclave is forbidden for entry to anyone, regardless of their military or civilian status.
The proceedings take place in the underground assembly hall within the Central 46 Compound. Each of the Central 46 has a plaque with a number on it obscuring his face. These plaques are the only means to identify individual members. Investigations will be held by the Onmitsukidō in secret, at the behest of the 46. Defendants will not be told exactly what it is they are accused of until sentencing, nor what the source of the accusation was; they are only allowed to speak when they answer the questions addressed to them and will only rarely, if ever, be given a chance to speak for themselves. The evidence is deemed far more important than any testimony. The Central 46 has very little patience to breaches of protocol. Wanton disregard for the proceedings or contempt of the Central 46 will more than likely bring added charges or sentence.
- It is against the law for a Shinigami to give their spiritual power to Humans.
- It is against the law for a Shinigami to use any type of forbidden Kidō.
- It is against the law for any citizen of Soul Society to create weapons of a dangerous nature not sanctioned by the feudal government. To do so is treason.
- It is against the law to attack a captain. To do so is treason.
- It is against the law to commit terrorist action(s) or attempt to overthrow the balance of Soul Society. To do so is treason.
- It is against the law to commit murder.
- It is against the law to kill a Human that a Shinigami has not been ordered to kill.
- It is forbidden for a Shinigami to acquire or attempt to gain Hollow-like powers.
- It is against the law for the Gotei 13 to meddle in the affairs of the noble families unless the family in question breaks one of the laws of Soul Society beyond a shadow of a doubt.
- It is a crime for a Shinigami to remain in the Human World longer than a certain time limit.
- It is a crime to lose a sacred treasure.
- It is against the law to alter the Dangai records.
- Kōga Kuchiki was tried for murdering his comrades (which was actually a frame-up), and was to be suspended from the 3rd Seat of the 6th Division, while his Zanpakutō, Muramasa, was considered a threat to peace and its powers are to be nullified permanently. Upon Kōga's jailbreak and killing the three elite officers who framed him, he was to be sentenced to death.
- Nanao Ise's mother was tried for losing a sacred treasure, the Shinken Hakkyōken, and was sentenced to death.
- Kaname Tōsen attempted to seek an audience with Central 46 in regards to his friend's death at the hands of her husband (who was exonerated for this crime), but was dismissed and removed by guards.
- Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto was ordered to cease the Zanjutsu training for Kenpachi Zaraki after one day in fear that Zaraki may become unstoppable should he revolt against Soul Society.
- Tessai Tsukabishi was tried for the use of the forbidden Kidō Jikanteishi. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in the third level of the Central Great Underground Prison called Shugo.
- Kisuke Urahara was tried for the crimes of conducting forbidden experiments, deceiving his colleagues and causing grievous injury. He was sentenced to be stripped of his powers and eternally banished to the Human world.
- Shinji Hirako and the other Visored were to be dealt with as Hollows, since they had acquired Hollow powers, albeit unwillingly.
- Rukia Kuchiki was tried in her absence for over-staying the time limit in the Human world and for transferring her powers to a Human. She was sentenced to death by Sōkyoku. It was later revealed that the entire proceeding, starting with the order for her arrest, was orchestrated by Sōsuke Aizen.
- Ran'Tao was tried for her pivotal role in the creation of the Bounts, and was subsequently stripped of her Shinigami powers and exiled from Seireitei after aiding the Bounts' escape into the Human World.
- Makoto Kibune was tried for injuring a Shinigami during a fight with a Hollow.
- Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto was denied by Central 46 to do any investigation on the Kasumiōji Clan Compound.
- Sōsuke Aizen was tried for the crime of high treason, as well as a long list of other crimes. He was sentenced to 18,800 years in the 8th and lowest level of the Central Great Underground Prison called Muken. Because of his outburst, his sentence was aggravated to 20,000 years.
- Ōko Yushima was ordered to cease his Project Spearhead, and his developed Mod-Souls were to be disposed of. He attempted to demand an explanation, but was dismissed and removed by the guards.
- Jūshirō Ukitake tried to plead for Shunsui Kyōraku's innocence to no avail when he was suspected of altering Dangai records. This was actually caused by a Reigai working for Kagerōza Inaba.
- Nest of Maggots: Detention in the Nest of Maggots is a punishment less known among the citizens of Soul Society and even the ranks of Shinigami. It is commonly reserved for high-level Shinigami who have either broken the law, quit the Gotei 13 or were otherwise deemed dangerous and mentally unstable (as per the government's interpretation). One well known inmate of the Nest of Maggots was Mayuri Kurotsuchi. The sentence is carried out by the detention unit of the Onmitsukidō, formerly headed by Kisuke Urahara.
- Spirit-Sealing Pit: The spirit-sealing pit is an ancient form of execution in which Shinigami criminals are thrown into a pit walled with Sekkiseki – a type of stone that absorbs spiritual power, preventing those nearby from using their powers. Hollows are then thrown into the pit with the criminals as the means of execution. The practice was considered too barbaric and was discontinued. The pits themselves were converted into garbage dumps.