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Iraq: Judicial and Legal System
Country Study > Chapter 4 > Government and Politics > Government Overview > Judicial and Legal System

JUDICIAL AND LEGAL SYSTEM


Under the regime of Saddam Hussein, the judicial system was fully controlled by the executive branch. One aim of the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) was to restore an independent judiciary. However, chronically poor security conditions have prevented that system from functioning on a regular basis. In 2004 a British program began identifying and retraining Iraqi judges and legal personnel to replenish the court system. The legal system in place, pending comprehensive renovation under a permanent government, combines elements of Iraq’s pre-Baathist laws and international law. In that system, which was influenced by French, Egyptian, and Ottoman law and is considered seriously outdated, judges rather than lawyers dominate court proceedings. Decisions are made by a three-judge panel; there are no juries. Since 2003 Iraq’s court system has been moved from the Ministry of Justice to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Judicial Council, removing the influence of the executive branch that marked the Hussein regime.

The system is divided into civil and criminal courts and courts of personal status (for matters to be tried under Islamic law). Criminal courts are of two types, misdemeanor and felony. The hierarchy begins with courts of first instance, then district appeals courts (existing in 17 districts), courts of cassation, and the Federal Court of Cassation, which normally is the final appeal stage. Extraordinary cases go to the highest level, the Supreme Federal Court.

In an effort to curb violent crime, the interim government reinstated the death penalty in 2004 for crimes including drug trafficking and kidnapping. In 2005 Iraqi criminal courts sentenced several men to death for building terrorist bombs. On several occasions in the early 2000s, judges and lawyers suffered violence and intimidation. Reportedly, some 800 judges were active in 2006.

The interim government assigned an Iraq Special Tribunal for Crimes Against Humanity, including about 50 judges, to try top members of Saddam Hussein’s regime, including Saddam Hussein himself, for war crimes as defined by the International Criminal Court. After the replacement of some judges caused substantial delays, the trial of Hussein began in October 2005 and continued intermittently through the summer of 2006. The composition, expertise, and scope of the special tribunal remained controversial in Iraq and among international authorities.

Data as of August 2006




Last Updated: August 2006


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Iraq was first published in 1988. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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