Lebanon�s judicial system has shown remarkable continuity despite the political turmoil the country has experienced.
- Constitutional provisions for the judiciary
Lebanon�s constitution is one of the oldest in the region, dating back to the days of the French mandate. It was thus written before extensive provisions for judicial bodies became common. While it has been amended, there has been no attempt to spell out provisions for the judiciary, with the exception of an amendment to create a constitutional council in 1990. That amendment came out of the Al-Ta�if Agreement, which was designed to strengthen national institutions and bring an end to Lebanon�s civil war. That Agreement also called for strengthening the Suprme Judicial Council (though that clause was not given constitutional expression) and for implementation of a constitutional provision for a special tribunal for trying senior political officials.
As amended in 1990, Lebanon�s constitution has only two articles devoted to the judiciary (an additional article, Article 80, deals with trying ministers and presidents).
Article 19 A Constitutional Council is established to supervise the constitutionality of laws and to arbitrate conflicts that arise from parliamentary and presidential elections. The President, the President of the Parliament, the Prime Minister, along with any ten Members of Parliament, have the right to consult this Council on matters that relate to the constitutionality of laws. The officially recognized heads of religious communities have the right to consult this Council only on laws relating to personal status, the freedom of belief and religious practice, and the freedom of religious education. The rules governing the organization, operation, composition, and modes of appeal of the Council are decided by a special law.
Article 20 Judicial power is to be exercised by the tribunals of various levels and jurisdictions. It functions within the limits of an order established by the law and offering the necessary guarantees to judges and litigants. The limits and conditions for the protection of the judges are determined by law. The judges are independent in the exercise of their duties. The decisions and judgments of all courts are rendered and executed in the name of the Lebanese People.
- Structure of court system
Lebanon�s courts of general jurisdiction have three levels: first instance (composed of sulhiyya and bida�iyya courts that apportion work in accordance with the seriousness of the case; appeals (isti�naf) and cassation (tamyiz).
There is also an administrative court system, known as the State Consultative Council (Majlis shura al-dawla).
- Personal status issues
Personal status issues fall under the jurisdiction of specialized confessional courts. The shari�a courts have two levels and are divided into Sunni and Shi�i (ja�fari) sections. There are also courts for the various Christian sects, Druze, and Jews.
- Prosecution system
Lebanon follows a niyaba system in which prosecutors are considered part of the judicial corps. However, public prosecution remains under the Ministry of Justice rather than the Supreme Judicial Council. As such, it is not simply a judicial but also an executive branch function.
- Appointing/assigning/evaluation of judges
Lebanon has laid the groundwork for an independent judiciary, though some areas of controversy remain.
The Supreme Judicial Council is exclusively judicial in composition. In the 1960s some executive branch participation was briefly introduced, but that change was reversed after only a few years. While all members are from judicial ranks, some are appointed to the Council are appointed by the executive.
The Council plays a role in judicial appointments and promotions. However, Lebanon�s delicate sectarian balance has led the Ministry of Justice to take the initiative in order to guarantee adequate representation by all groups. Its decisions are submitted to the Council for approval.
- Administration and Relationship with Ministry of Justice
The budget and administration of the courts generally fall within the Ministry of Justice. The courts have been overburdened in recent years, leading some to suggest an increase in the number of judges.
The Lebanese judiciary relies on the Ministry of Justice for much of the administrative support for the courts. In addition, the Ministry plays a role in forming the Supreme Judicial Council, appointing judges, and overseeing public prosecution and investigation. This has occasionally led to proposals to increase the autonomy granted to the judiciary.
- Specialized courts
Besides the courts of general jurisdiction, administrative courts, and confessional courts, Lebanon has several judicial or quasi-judicial bodies. For instance, there are quasi-judicial or arbitration bodies for labor, real estate, and customs disputes. Military courts deal with military affairs and some security matters. The Court of Audit is attached to the Prime Minister�s office and oversees cases related to public funds.
The Judicial Council, composed of senior judges, considers cases related to state security. It receives cases that are referred from the cabinet upon the suggestion of the minister of justice. Its decisions are not subject to appeal.
In addition, there are two new elements in Lebanon�s judicial system. First, while Article 80 of the constitution provides for a �Supreme Council� to try presidents and ministers, implementing legislation was never passed until after the Al-Ta�if accords. That body consists of judges and parliamentary deputies.
Second, in 1990 the Lebanese constitution was amended to provide for a �Constitutional Council.� Judges for that body are selected by the parliament and the cabinet. Only official actors may bring cases, and then only for a short period after the law is passed. The Council is also the designated body for election disputes.
- Judicial education
The Institute for Judicial Studies was established in the 1960s to provide for initial training for Lebanese judges.