The legal system of Jordan is based on sharia (Islamic law) and laws of European origin. During the nineteenth century, when Jordan was part of the Ottoman Empire, some aspects of European law, especially French commercial law and civil and criminal procedures, were adopted. English common law was introduced in the West Bank between 1917 and 1948, during most of which time the area was incorporated into the British-administered Mandate of Palestine, and introduced in the East Bank during the years 1921 to 1946, when the East Bank comprised the British Mandate of Transjordan. Under the Court Establishment Law of 1951 and the Constitution, the judiciary is independent. There are three kinds of courts: civil courts, religious courts, and special courts. The civil courts adjudicate all civil and criminal cases not expressly reserved to the religious or special courts.
The civil jurisdiction is exercised at four levels: the magistrates' courts, the courts of first instance, the Court of Appeal, and the Court of Cassation (the supreme court of the land). There are fourteen magistrates' courts throughout the country. They exercise jurisdiction in civil cases involving small claims of no more than JD250 (JD or Jordanian dinar) and in criminal cases involving maximum fines of JD100 or maximum prison terms of one year. The seven courts of first instance exercise general jurisdiction in all matters civil and criminal. A panel of three judges sits for all felony trials; two judges sit for misdemeanor and civil cases. The courts of first instance also exercise limited appellate jurisdiction in cases involving judgments or fines under JD20 and JD10 respectively.
There is a three-judge panel Court of Appeal that sits in Amman. Its appellate review extends to judgments of the courts of first instance, the magistrates' courts, and the religious courts. The highest court is the Court of Cassation in Amman; its president, who is appointed by the king, serves as the country's chief justice. All seven judges of the court sit in full panel when important cases are being argued. For most appeals, however, only five judges hear and rule on the cases.
The religious courts are divided into sharia courts for Muslims and ecclesiastical courts for the minority Christian communities. These courts are responsible for disputes over personal status (marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance) and communal endowment among their respective communities. One judge, called a qadi, sits in each sharia court and decides cases on the basis of Islamic law. Three judges, usually members of the clergy, sit in each ecclesiastical court and render judgments based on various aspects of canon law as interpreted by the Greek Orthodox, Melchite, Roman Catholic, and Anglican traditions. Appeals from the judgments of the religious courts are referred to the Court of Appeal sitting in Amman. If any dispute involves members of different religious communities, the civil courts have jurisdiction unless the parties mutually agree to submit to the jurisdiction of one of the religious courts. In case of jurisdictional conflicts between any two religious courts or between a religious court and a civil court, the president of the Court of Cassation appoints a three-judge special tribunal to decide jurisdiction or to hear the case.
Special courts include the High Tribunal (or High Council or Supreme Council), which interprets the Constitution at the request of the prime minister or of either chamber of the National Assembly; the Special Council, which may be called on by the prime minister to interpret any law that has not been interpreted by the courts of law; and the High Court of Justice, which is to be constituted when necessary by the Court of Cassation. The High Court of Justice hears habeas corpus and mandamus petitions and may issue injunctions involving public servants charged with irregularities; it is also empowered to try cabinet ministers charged with offenses. There is also a special court known as the Land Settlement Court. After 1976 when tribal law was abolished, tribal matters came under the formal jurisdiction of the regular courts, but adjudication apparently was still handled informally in traditional ways by local intermediaries or tribal authorities.
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