As with other branches of government, the judiciary suffered as a result of the 1975 Civil War and the ensuing disruptions. Prior to the war, the Lebanese justice system mirrored many features common to West European systems especially that of France. The Ministry of Justice had official authority over the judicial system, but the Supreme Council of Justice, a body consisting of eleven judges appointed by the president in consultation with leaders of the sects, exercised actual jurisdiction over the various courts. It appointed judges to the several courts and could transfer or remove them. There were fifty-six courts of first instance, with seventeen in Beirut alone, and each was presided over by a single magistrate. Cases from these courts could be appealed to one of eleven courts of appeal, each of which had a three-judge panel. Above these were four courts of cassation, on which sat three judges each. Three of these courts adjudicated civil cases, and one heard criminal complaints.
Several other courts existed outside this general framework. The six-member Council of State functioned as an appeals court for administrative matters, and the Judicial Council, which included the most senior judge of the courts of cassation and four other judges appointed by the government, ruled on cases of public security. In addition, there were a few other special courts that heard questions relating to the military, the press, and business affairs.
Matters of personal status, dealing with such issues as marriage and inheritance, were in the domain of the various sects. These cases sometimes involved complex layers of appeal. Maronites and Greek Catholics, for example, could appeal to the Vatican, whereas Greek Orthodox could look to the Patriarchal Court in Damascus for relief. Shias and Sunnis, in contrast, often dealt with appeals locally and based decisions on sharia.
As might be expected in a society based on patronage, political interference in judicial affairs was not uncommon, and pressures from zuama on judges often influenced rulings. Observers noted that confessionalism also marred the judicial system, not only in the selection of judges, some of whom were mediocre jurists, but also in the determination of criminal penalties.
As of 1987, the Ministry of Justice was an active portfolio, but there was little evidence that the judiciary resembled its prewar status; only a few government-run courts seemed to be in operation. These apparently handled only minor civil and criminal cases and ultimately were circumscribed by the desires of the local militias.
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