Jordan Table of Contents
Until the nineteenth century, the only source of law considered to be valid in controlling criminal activity in the region that was to become Jordan was Islamic religious law, or sharia. This law and its application had remained static for centuries, subject only to interpretation by the ulama (pl.; sing. alim, religious scholars) and enforcement by Muslim judges (qadis) in sharia courts. Temporal rulers could not, in theory, legislate rules to govern social behavior; they could only hand down edicts to implement the immutable divine law.
In the mid-1800s, reforms of the system were instituted to enhance Ottoman control of the area. Comprehensive codes of law based on European models became the basis of a new legal system, and in 1858 a criminal code was adopted to support the reform movement. The new code was based on French law, but in effect it complemented sharia inasmuch as the French code was modified to accommodate Muslim customs. For example, the Ottoman criminal code imposed the payment of blood money in addition to imprisonment for acts of homicide or bodily injury, and the death penalty for apostasy was retained.
When the Ottoman Empire ceased to exist after World War I and Britain became the mandatory power for Palestine and Transjordan, the Ottoman laws in force were supplemented by British statutes. In Palestine the 1858 criminal code was replaced by a new penal code and a code of criminal procedure patterned on those used in British colonies. The Palestinian courts, staffed by British and British-trained judges, used their power to apply English common law, and decisions could be appealed to the judicial committee of the Privy Council in London. The influence of English law was weaker in Transjordan, however, where there were no British judges, and common law was not applied in the courts. Instead, the laws that dealt with criminal behavior retained the European flavor of the Ottoman code of 1858.
When the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was proclaimed in 1949, the ancient Ottoman code had been largely modified at the insistence of moderates who believed that the sharia provisions on which it had been based should be supplemented by--and, if necessary, subordinated to--laws that could deal with modern problems. The period of British tutelage did not significantly change the substantive law, but it had the effect of weakening the absolutist traditions of sharia in the field of criminal jurisprudence. In the early 1950s, a committee of leading Muslim scholars and jurists of several Arab countries convened with the purpose of drafting new codes of criminal law and procedure to replace the 1858 Ottoman code, which had been almost entirely amended during the century it had been in force. In 1956 the Jordanian National Assembly adopted a new criminal code and code of criminal procedure. Both were based on the Syrian and Lebanese codes, which in turn were modeled on French counterparts.
Within the realm of criminal jurisprudence, Jordan retained only nominal application of sharia. Although the codified laws were based on Islamic principles and customs, these were largely modified and extended along European lines in an effort to adapt to the requirements of a changing economy and culture.
Data as of December 1989