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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

The Moroccan Constitution provides for a monarchy with a Parliament and an independent judiciary. Ultimate authority rests with the King. He presides over the Council of Ministers; appoints the Prime Minster following legislative elections; appoints all members of the government taking into account the Prime Minister's recommendations; and may, at his discretion, terminate the tenure of any minister, dissolve the Parliament, call for new elections, or rule by decree. The King is the head of the military and the country's religious leader.

Since the constitutional reform of 1996, the bicameral legislature consists of a lower chamber, the Chamber of Representatives, which is directly elected and an upper chamber, the Chamber of Counselors, whose members are indirectly elected through various regional, local, and professional councils. The councils' members themselves are elected directly. The Parliament's powers, though limited, were expanded under the 1992 and 1996 constitutional revisions and include budgetary matters, approving bills, questioning ministers, and establishing ad hoc commissions of inquiry to investigate the government's actions. The lower chamber of Parliament may dissolve the government through a vote of no confidence.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments

There are four levels in the Moroccan common law court system: Communal and district courts, courts of first instance, the Appeals Court, and the Supreme Court. While in theory there is a single court system under the Ministry of Justice, other courts also operate, including: The Special Court of Justice, which handles cases of civil servants who are implicated in corruption; administrative courts, which deal with the decisions of the bureaucracy; commercial courts, which deal with business disputes; and the military tribunal, which tries cases involving military personnel and, on certain occasions, matters pertaining to state security (although state security cases also may fall within the jurisdiction of the regular court system).

Although there is a single court system for most nonmilitary matters, family issues such as marriage, divorce, child support and custody, and inheritance are adjudicated by judges trained in Shari'a (Islamic law) as applied in the country. Judges considering criminal cases or cases in nonfamily areas of civil law generally are trained in the French legal tradition. All judges trained in recent years are graduates of the National Institute for Judicial Studies, where they undergo 3 years of study heavily focused on human rights and the rule of law. It is not necessary to be a lawyer to become a judge, and the majority of judges are not lawyers.

In general detainees are arraigned before a court of first instance. If the infraction is minor and not contested, the judge may order the defendant released or impose a light sentence. If an investigation is required, the judge may release defendants on their own recognizance. If the judge determines that a confession was obtained under duress, the law requires him to exclude it from evidence. However, according to reliable sources, cases often are adjudicated on the basis of confessions, some of which are obtained under duress.

While appeal courts may in some cases be used as a second reference for courts of first instance, they primarily handle cases involving crimes punishable by 5 years or more in prison. In practice defendants before appeals courts who are implicated in such crimes consequently have no method of appeal if a judgment goes against them. The Supreme Court does not review and rule on cases sent to it by courts of appeal; in its role as a court of cassation, the Supreme Court may overturn an appellate court's ruling on procedural grounds only. The absence of appeals for defendants in such crimes therefore becomes more problematic given the fact that an investigation into the case by an examining magistrate is mandatory only in those crimes punishable by sentences of life imprisonment or death.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Human Rights

The Moroccan Government generally respected the rights of its citizens in most areas in 2001; however, the Government's record was generally poor in a few areas. Citizens do not have the full right to change their government. While then-King Hassan II's appointment of a first-ever opposition coalition government in 1998 marked a significant step toward democratization, officially recognized corruption and vote-buying in the September 2000 Chamber of Counselors elections constituted a notable setback. There is one report of a suspicious death in police custody, and a number of prisoners died while incarcerated. Despite progress by the Government, human rights groups continued to call for full disclosure of all available information concerning citizens abducted by the Government from the 1960's through the 1980's. Some members of the security forces beat protesters on several occasions, although the extent of such abuses was more limited than in the past. Prison conditions remain harsh but continued slowly to improve. Authorities, at times, arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. The judiciary was subject to Interior Ministry influence and some members of the judiciary accepted bribes. Human rights organizations and activists continued to allege a lack of due process in high-profile court trials. Sixty-four member of the Islamist Justice and Charity Organization (JCO) and 36 human rights activists were sentenced to between 3 months and 1 year in prison plus fines, for their participation in protests held in December 2000 to celebrate the International Day of Human Rights. In July the Government quickly prosecuted on extremely questionable grounds a former intelligence agent who had made embarrassing assertions regarding the disappearance from Paris in 1965 of socialist leader Mehdi Ben Barka, a leading socialist and opposition figure. The Royal Arbitration Commission that the King established in 1999 to indemnify former political prisoners and their families continued to adjudicate cases and pay compensation.

At times authorities infringed on citizens' privacy rights. The Government's record on press freedom remained inconsistent during the year, although it improved over 2000. While the Government permitted extensive coverage of formerly taboo topics, it systematically restricted press freedom on several specific topics that it considered sensitive, and on which journalists continued to practice self-censorship, including criticism of the Monarchy, Morocco's claim to the Western Sahara, and the sanctity of Islam. The Government censored and banned several domestic and foreign publications during the year. The Government limited freedom of assembly and association. In several incidents throughout the year, police beat and violently dispersed demonstrators although police broke up fewer demonstrations than in the past. The Government limited freedom of religion. Although non-Muslim foreigners may practice their religions freely, missionaries who proselytized faced expulsion, and converts from Islam to other religions continued to experience social ostracism. The Government monitored the activities of mosques. The Government at times restricted freedom of movement and withheld the granting of passports for foreign travel. Human rights awareness training continued for teachers and police personnel. In April Amnesty International Secretary General Pierre Sane "applauded the progress recorded by Morocco in the field of human rights," although he urged more progress concerning political prisoners and past cases of disappearance.

Domestic violence and discrimination against women were common. Teenage prostitution was a problem in urban centers. Berbers faced cultural marginalization, and continued to press the Government to preserve their languages and culture. On October 17, the King established an institute to promote Berber culture. The Government violated worker rights, subjecting unions to government interference, restricting the right to strike and the right of workers to form unions, and using security forces to break up strikes. Child labor was a problem, and the Government did not act strongly enough to end the plight of young girls who were illegally employed and subjected to exploitative and abusive domestic servitude. Trafficking in persons, particularly child maids, was a problem.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Legal Profession
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