The Judicial System in the Islamic Republic of Iran

The first draft of the constitution of the Islamic republic emphasized that in the Islamic republic, which is based on “democratic foundations,” “national sovereignty belongs to the Iranian people and can not be appropriated by any individual or group of individuals.” In the final version, however, there were no references to the “democratic foundations.” Furthermore, the concept of national sovereignty has been replaced by “divine right of the people.” According to the constitution the responsibilities of the judiciary branch “shall be administered by the courts which will be established according to Islamic criteria and which will dispense “Islamic justice and enforce “God’s retribution.” The over all responsibility of the judiciary branch is vested in a competent and well informed Mujtahed (high ranking cleric) to be appointed by the supreme leader for a term of five years. Clearly, in this hierarchical and centrally controlled judicial structure there is no trace of the independence of the judiciary branch or its courts.
Thus, soon after the establishment of the Islamic republic, not only the executive branch of the government but the legislative and judiciary branches were dominated by the ruling clergy and their laic proxies. The newly empowered and inexperienced clergy who began to run the courts had scant, if any, familiarity with the structure, regulations and functions of Iran’s pre revolutionary justice system which had, in the preceding decades, developed into a fairly modern institution. The result was a chaotic and dysfunctional judicial system in which arbitrary and often contradictory decisions were made by prosecutors and judges in defiance of internationally accepted norms of due process of law.
Today, the judiciary of the Islamic republic of Iran is under the paramount control of the supreme leader, as are its legislative and executive powers. Lack of independence is, however, the least of the problems of Iran’s Islamic Judiciary. It’s most serious flaw lies in the antiquated nature of the legal codes that it has diligently tried to apply in the last three decades. At the top of these codes stands the Islamic penal code, which has few if any parallels in its generous prescription of death penalty to a slew of crimes and political “misdemeanors.” There is no possibility of reforming such a judicial system without substantial overhaul of Iran’s civil and criminal codes on the basis of the principles of human rights that could only be realized within a democratic political system that is characterized by a genuine separation of powers.
عبدالکریم لاهیجی*
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