Two judicial systems operate in Syria: the Courts of General Jurisdiction and the Administrative Courts. Transcendent authority over all courts of law rests with the Supreme Constitutional Court, which deals almost exclusively in matters of constitutional law and other internal affairs of state.
The Courts of General Jurisdiction are separated into six branches, all of which are further categorized by Civil and Penal Chambers (with the exception of the Personal Status Courts). These branches are: (1) The Court of Cassation; (2) Courts of Appeal; (3) Tribunals of First Instance; (4) Tribunals of Peace; (5) Personal Status Courts; and (6) Courts for Minor Offendors.
The Court of Cassation, the highest court, hears appeals from the lower courts and can overturn judgments rendered by Courts of Appeal in criminal and civil cases.
The Courts of Appeal preside over a separate governorate (Mouhafazat) each and are divided into Civil and Penal Chambers. Each Court of Appeal hears appeals of decisions in cases previously tried before the Tribunals of First Instance and the Tribunals of Peace.
There are several Tribunals of First Instance located in each governorate. Each Tribunal is divided into several divisions according to nature of the cases presented.
The Tribunals of Peace preside over minor civil and criminal matters and are abundant in each governorate. The Personal Status Courts deal mostly in personal status and family matters and vary according to the religion and ethnic origin of the litigants. The jurisdiction of the Courts for Minor Offendors applies accordingly to matters relating to minors. The Administrative Courts adjudicate matters involving the state and its agencies.
Foreign judgments can only be executed in Syria if they relate to civil or to commercial disputes upon the approval of the Court of First Instance in the governorate where the judgment is to be executed. If there is no bilateral treaty on mutual recognition with the country concerned, the Syrian court will re-examine the case and scrutinize the foreign court's opinion. If a bilateral treaty exists, the Court will limit its scrutiny to violations of Syrian public policy.
Generally, both domestic and international disputes are arbitrable, unless otherwise specified in statutory provisions. Public or government institutions cannot agree to submit to arbitration unless provided for by statute. The state can only agree to arbitrate if it is bound by treaty. International arbitration held in Syria is subject to Syrian law and is generally covered by the same rules governing domestic arbitration. The enforcement of international arbitration awards generally follows the same rules as the enforcement of foreign court decisions.
Furthermore, Syria is a contracting party to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. Few investment disputes have actually occurred during the past few several years. Such disputes are usually settled (often after long delays) through negotiations or by enforcement of a contractual arbitration clause.
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)