Judicial Foundation and Legal Codification
The legal system of Oman is based primarily on the Islamic Shari’a traditions of the Ibadi school. Custom, tradition, and Shari’a still occupy important places as guides in judicial decision-making, although there is a growing body of codified laws. The independence of the judiciary is guaranteed in Article 60 of the Basic Law adopted in 1996. Royal Decrees 90-93 of 1999 were issued in order to bring the judiciary into line with the Basic Law. These reforms greatly simplified the judicial system and consolidated the jurisdictions of the special courts into one regular system. Ministerial Decree 128 of 2001 delineates judges’ responsibilities in arbitration, public expression of legal views, and the issuance of fatwas.
In 1990, a broad Commercial Law came into effect by virtue of Royal Decree No. 55 of 1990. The principles of this corpus of laws draw on the Kuwaiti commercial code of 1981, French Civil Code and Egyptian Law. The Labor Law was initially codified in 1973 and has been amended several times since then. The Banking Law of 1974 is considered to be one of the most advanced in the Gulf region. Royal Decree No. 7 of 1974 established the Penal Code.
Judicial Structure and Court System
Royal Decree 90 of 1999 established a three-tier court system in place of the earlier system of Sharia Courts, Commercial Courts and Penal Courts. Under the new system, all civil, criminal and commercial cases are heard in the Courts of First Instance, established with one in each of 40 provinces. A single judge presides over each of these courts, but the seven courts in Oman’s largest municipalities additionally possess a panel of three judges with jurisdiction over special cases. Next in the appellate structure are the Courts of Appeal, which exist in six circuits in Oman. The Appeals Courts are composed of three Qadis, or religious judges.
Judicial Authority and Appointment of Judges
Article 63 of the Basic Law states that all court hearings are to be public unless privacy is required for the purposes of keeping the peace. In 1994, the Ministry of Legal Affairs was established to serve as an administrative organ of the judiciary. This body replaced the Diwan of Legislation, an office created in 1975. The Ministry reviews all decrees and draft-laws prior to their publication in the Official Gazette and promulgation. The Ministry also has the task of coordinating the further developments of the judicial branch. The sultan makes all judicial appointments.
Article 66 of the Basic Law established the Supreme Council of the Judiciary, whose functions and composition were defined by Royal Decree 93 of 1999. The council is chaired by the Sultan. Its function is to formulate judicial policy and ensure the independence of the judiciary.
The Shari’a Courts, which formerly held competency in all civil and most criminal cases, had their jurisdiction restricted to cases involving matters of personal status when the new court system was established in 2001. Appeals to decisions of Sharia courts are brought before the Courts of Appeal.
The Supreme Court is responsible for standardizing legal principle and reviewing the decisions of lower courts. Any appeals beyond the Supreme Court must be made directly to the Sultan who determines matters brought before him in accordance with his own notions of justice.
Oman formerly possessed numerous special courts, including the Commercial Court, the Labour Court, the Taxation Committee and the Municipality Court. Their jurisdictions were recently subsumed by the Courts of First Instance under the Judicial Authority Law of 1999. The State Security Court still exists to try cases related to national security, though the Sultan has been known to show leniency in overseeing the sentences it issues. The Administrative Court is another special body with competency to hear cases involving decisions and actions of governmental bodies.
Judicial Education and Profession
Royal Decree 108 of 1996 regulates the legal profession. The Ministry of Justice also maintains a committee to regulate the activities of foreign and local lawyers. The College of Sharia and Jurisprudence trains students for the legal profession. To become judges, students must specialize in Sharia Jurisprudence in a further course. Plans are under way to create a new school for the purpose of training judges.