Arab World


18. Kuwait > Legal System

In 1959, the Shari'ah system of Muslim law was augmented by the establishment of courts of law based on modern legal codes. The Emir has the constitutional authority to pardon and commute sentences.
There is a summary court in each district, presided over by a judge. The summary courts deal with civil and commercial cases. Tribunals of first instance hear issues involving personal status, civil and commercial cases, and criminal cases (except those of a religious nature). The High Court of Appeals is divided into two chambers, one with jurisdiction over appeals involving personal status and civil cases, the other over appeals involving commercial and criminal cases. The five-member Superior Constitutional Court is the highest level of the Kuwaiti judiciary; it interprets the constitution and deals with disputes related to the constitutionality of laws, statutes and by-laws. A military court handles offenses committed by members of the security forces.
Religious courts, Sunni and Shi'a, hear family law matters, and there is a separate domestic court for non-Muslims. There is no Shi'a appellate court. Shi'a cases on appeal are adjudicated by Sunni courts of appeals.
The government respects the human rights of its citizens. However, there have been recent reports of abuse of prisoners by security forces. There is some degree of government corruption, and there are limitations on freedom of speech, press, religion, and movement. Kuwait retains the death penalty.
In June 2008, Kuwait's supreme court upheld the death sentence against Talal Nasser al Sabah, a member of the royal family, who had been found guilty of drug trafficking. The case is widely seen as a test case for the impartiality of the law. The sheikh is one of hundreds of members of the huge ruling family. He has appealed to the Emir to grant a pardon, but such a pardon could upset Kuwaiti politicians who have some oversight powers to hold the ruling family accountable. Carrying out the death sentence would cause consternation in the other family-ruled countries of the region.

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