The Court System
Jordan has three main types of courts: Civil courts, military courts and religious courts.
Civil Court System
Civil courts adjudicate all civil and criminal cases which are not specifically reserved for other courts. Four levels of courts make up the civil court system:
Magistrate’s Courts have jurisdiction in criminal matters for misdemeanors and minor crimes where the sentence is two years or less. They also hear civil actions where the amount involved does not exceed JD 750. Finally, they hear all eviction cases and lawsuits charging trespass on land. There are 14 magistrates in Amman. Most Jordanian cites have two or three magistrates. Both civil and criminal cases before the Magistrate’s Court are heard by a single judge.
Courts of First Instance have jurisdiction in criminal matters which fall outside the jurisdiction of the Magistrate’s Court, and which are not specifically covered by other special courts. They also hear all civil cases not heard in the magistrate’s courts, including all matters where alleged damages exceed JD 750. The Courts of First Instance also hear appeals for all criminal cases where a sentence of one week or less (or a fine not exceeding JD 10) is assessed. Two judges hear criminal matters, one judge adjudicates civil matters. Branches are located in Amman and several other major cities.
Major Felonies Court has first instance jurisdiction over a specific set of serious criminal offenses (defined as crimes with a possible sentence greater than three years) which are not heard in the military court/state security court (see below). Crimes tried in the this court include manslaughter/murder cases and rape and other sexual offenses. There is only one major felonies court in Jordan, located in Amman Three judges hear each case. Appeals from a major felonies court judgment are made directly to the Court of Cassation.
Courts of Appeal hear all cases of appeal from judgments of the Courts of First Instance and all cases of appeal from the magistrate’s court, which are not heard by courts of First Instance. The court of appeals may reconsider determinations of facts as well as law; they may therefore decide to rehear a case decided below. A three judge panel considers all matters raised in the Courts of Appeal.
Courts of Cassation (or Supreme Court) considers appeals of felonies in criminal cases and all judgments exceeding JD 500 in civil cases. Other cases may be accepted for appeal by a special leave granted by the President of the Court. The Court also considers habeas corpus petitions (seeking the release of a detainee based on unlawful imprisonment) in its role as a “High Court of Justice”. Furthermore, in another role as a “Private Tribunal”, it determines which court has jurisdiction over a case where there is a jurisdictional dispute. The Court of Cassation is made up of a maximum of 15 judges. Five judges generally hear each case.
Although martial law was lifted in 1991, certain crimes considered to touch on national security are still tried in State Security courts administered by the Jordanian military. These crimes include espionage, bribery of public officials, trafficking in narcotics or weapons, black marketing, and “security offenses”. Military judges generally adjudicate cases. Defendants may be represented by a lawyer and are accorded other protections such as the right to cross-examine witnesses. The decision of a military court cannot be appealed but must be ratified by the Prime Minister in his capacity as martial law governor. He may increase, reduce, or annul the sentence.
The military court also prosecutes military personnel for all categories of offenses. In these cases, the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces must approve the sentence.