JURIST >> WORLD LAW >> Bahrain 

Constitution, Government & Legislation | Courts & Judgments | Human Rights | Legal Profession
map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

Bahrain is a hereditary emirate under the rule of the Al Khalifa family. The Amir, Shaykh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, his uncle--Khalifa bin Sulman Al Khalifa (Prime Minister) and Crown Prince Shaykh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa (Commander of the Bahraini defense forces), govern Bahrain in consultation with a council of ministers. The government faces few judicial checks on its actions. The Amir recently created the Supreme Judicial Council which is intended to regulate the country's courts and separate the administrative and judicial branches of government. Despite their minority status, the Sunnis predominate because the ruling family is Sunni and is supported by the armed forces, the security service, and powerful Sunni and Shi'a merchant families.

Since 1998, the new Amir has worked to make Bahraini society more democratic and open. Such changes have included the return to the Constitution as the supreme source for the country's laws and the legalization of nongovernmental organizations. On February 14, 2001, the people of Bahrain took part in a popular referendum, in which they approved by 98.4% a return to the Constitution. Among other issues, the referendum paved the way for Bahrain to become a constitutional monarchy and to change the country's official name from the State of Bahrain to the Kingdom of Bahrain (a change which took effect in February 2002).

Along with improvements in basic civil rights protections and freedoms of expression and association, the government took the first steps to return to Bahrainis the right to elect a legislature. In his October 2001 speech to open the tenth session of the Consultative Council, the Amir declared his intention to hold municipal elections in 2002 and legislative elections before 2004. He also stated that the legislative branch of government would have two houses, one directly elected by universal male and female suffrage and the other appointed. Bahrain's progress toward political and economic reform has been steady.

Bahrain's five governorates are administered by the Minister of State for Municipalities and the Environment in conjunction with each Governorate's Governor. A complex system of courts, based on diverse legal sources, including Sunni and Shi'a Sharia (religious law), tribal law, and other civil codes and regulation, was created with the help of British advisers in the early 20th century. This judiciary administers the legal code and reviews laws to ensure their constitutionality.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments

The civil and criminal legal systems consist of a complex mix of courts, based on diverse legal sources, including Sunni and Shi'a Shari'a (Islamic law), tribal law, and other civil codes and regulations. The Amir's annulment of the 1974 State Security Act abolished its separate, closed security court system, which had jurisdiction in cases of alleged antigovernment activity. The Amir appoints judges upon the recommendation of the Supreme Judicial Council. The Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs may comment on Supreme Judicial Council recommendations. Judges' terms are from appointment until the age of retirement from government service, which is set at age 60. A five-member committee of the Supreme Judicial Council oversees the procedures and rulings of judges. The committee may recommend suspension or removal of a judge whose rulings do not meet court standards.

The Bahrain Defense Force maintains a separate court system for military personnel accused of offenses under the Military Code of Justice. Military courts do not review cases involving civilian, criminal, or security offenses.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Human Rights

The Bahraini Government generally respected its citizens' human rights in a number of areas and improved significantly in other areas; however, its record remained poor in some areas, particularly with respect to the rights of workers. The Government denies citizens the right to change their government; however, the February referendum on the National Action Charter, provides a template for the return of the country to constitutional rule.

In February the Amir annulled the 1974 State Security Act, which had superseded the Constitution and permitted arbitrary arrest and detention, incommunicado and prolonged detention, and forced exile. By February 14, the Amir had released all remaining political detainees and prisoners and invited nearly all exiles to return with full citizenship rights. Most have done so. The Amir also abolished the State Security Court, which held secret trials and provided few procedural safeguards. Nonetheless, impunity remains a problem; there were no known instances of security force personnel being punished for abuses committed during the year or in the past. The abolition of the State Security Court restored to the public the right to a fair public trial. The judiciary is nominally independent, but it still remains subject to government pressure. The press has published allegations that some judges are corrupt. The Government continued to infringe to some extent on citizens' privacy rights. The Government imposed some restrictions on the freedoms of speech and the press, and restricted freedoms of assembly and association; however, during the year, public criticism of government policies increased, and the Government did not interfere with or disperse some unauthorized demonstrations. A committee worked during the year to develop legislation to define and regulate nongovernmental organizations (NGO's). The Government also imposes some limits on freedom of religion and freedom of movement. In May the Government registered the Bahrain Human Rights Society, the country's first human rights NGO. Violence against women, and discrimination based on sex, religion, and ethnicity remains a problem. The Government restricts worker rights, and widespread abuse of foreign workers occurs, including numerous instances of forced labor. Trafficking of foreign women into domestic servitude or sexual exploitation is a problem.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Legal Profession
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