Oman, Sultanate of


*Please note this is just a draft and all contents are still under revision.*


Legal Table
Legal Text

Legal System/History

 

Omani tribes adopted tenets of Ibadi Islam in 7th-8th century. Earliest European incursions into area of present-day Oman by Portuguese in early 16th century; expelled in 1650. Followed by period of ascendancy of Omani power in Gulf and Indian Ocean region; by end of 1600s, Omani empire included Bahrain and Zanzibar. Decline of Oman began in following century. Treaties of protection signed with British in 1798 and 1800 as French interest in Indian Ocean increased; series of treaties and agreements concluded with British in 19th century brought Oman under increasing British influence, with 1891 treaty bringing Oman under British protection; formal recognition of sovereignty of Sultanate of Oman and Muscat in 1951.

Several codes relating to commercial, criminal, labour, and tax law adopted since accession of Qaboos ibn Sa’id in 1970, but not in area of personal status. Ultimate appeal to the Sultan.

School(s) of Fiqh

Ibadi majority and Sunni and Shi’a minorities; also Hindu and Christian communities.

Constitutional Status of Islam(ic Law)

 

In November 1996 a Basic Law, in effect a constitution was decreed by  Sultan Qaboos to regulate several important areas of governance.  Article 2 declares Islam official state religion, and provides that shari’a is "the basis for legislation".

Court System

 

Judiciary comprised of shari’a courts, magistrate courts, and several specialised courts and tribunals. Shari’a courts hear civil and minor criminal cases, according to Ibadi doctrine. Court of Appeal in Muscat staffed by 3 qadis hears appeals from first instance shari’a courts. Highest level of judiciary is Complaints Committee.

Since 1970s, jurisdiction of shari’a courts increasingly limited. Magistrates Courts hear misdemeanour cases. Criminal Court in Muscat hears cases involving felonies and serves as appellate court. Specialised courts and quasi-judicial tribunals in various areas of land, commercial, labour and tax law apply state-issued legislation.  The Sultan issued several royal decrees to establish a law on judicial authority and to affirm the independence of the judiciary as called for in the 1996 Basic Charter. The decrees formally establish the judiciary as an independent, hierarchical system composed of a Supreme Court, an appeals court, primary courts (one located in each region), and, within the primary courts, divisional courts. Within each of the courts there are to be divisions to handle commercial, civil, penal, labor, taxation, general, and personal cases (the latter under Shari'a). The general prosecutor, which currently falls under the Royal Omani Police Chief Inspector, is to become an independent legal entity. Implementation of these decrees is expected to take place during 2000.

Relevant Legislation

Personal law is not codified. Criminal Code 1974 contains some provisions having bearing on family relations and Special Decree of 1986 relates to foreign marriages.

Notable Features

Classical Ibadi fiqh applied to matters of personal status.

Notable Cases

 

Law/Case Reporting System

Law reporting (of Royal Decrees and Ministerial Decisions) is through Official Gazette.

International Conventions (with Relevant Reservations)

CRC – accession 1996 with reservations to Arts. 9(4), 21, 7, 14 & 30

Legal History:

Omani tribes adopted the tenets of Ibadi Islam in the 7th-8th century, European incursions into the area of present-day Oman began with the Portuguese in the early 16th century. The expulsion of the Portuguese in 1650 was followed by a period of ascendancy of Omani power in Gulf and Indian Ocean region; by the end of the 1600s, the Omani empire included Bahrain and Zanzibar. The decline of the empire began in the following century. Omani leaders signed treaties of protection with the British in 1798 and 1800 as French interest in Indian Ocean increased and a series of treaties and agreements concluded with the British in the 19th century brought Oman under increasing British influence, with an 1891 treaty bringing Oman under British protection. The sovereignty of the Sultanate of Oman and Muscat was formally recognised in 1951 under Sultan Sa’id ibn Taimur.

Efforts at judicial reform began with the overthrow of the previous Sultan (Said bin Taimur, r. 1932-1970) by his son Qaboos in a bloodless coup supported by the British. Since that time, Oman has adopted a number of codes relating to commercial, criminal, labour, and tax laws, among other areas. Personal status remains unlegislated. Efforts at regulating the shari’a courts were unsuccessful, leading to the establishment of separate courts and judicial tribunals to enforce state law beginning in the 1970s. There are both shari’a and state courts now, with the former applying Ibadi law within an increasingly limited area of jurisdiction, and the latter applying those laws promulgated by royal decree. Ultimate appeal lies with the Sultan. There have been tentative efforts at establishing a more representative form of government. Sultan Qaboos introduced a Majlis al-Istishari (consultative council) in 1981, an informal advisory body comprised entirely of appointed members. This was replaced by a Majlis al-Shura in 1990 with members chosen by the Sultan from slates of three citizens put forward by notables of each district. The new Majlis is empowered to review legislation and state development plans and adopt and recommend amendments by a two-thirds majority.

 Schools of Fiqh: Oman is the only state in which the Ibadi school is the predominant madhhab. There are also Sunni and Shi’i minorities, as well as Hindu and Christian (mainly expatriate) communities.

Constitutional Status of Islam(ic Law. In November 1996 a Basic Law, in effect a constitution was decreed by  Sultan Qaboos to regulate several important areas of governance.  Chapter 1 of the Basic Law is entitled ‘The State and the System of Government’. Article 2 declares Islam the official state religion, and provides that the shari’a is "the basis for legislation".

Court System: The judiciary is comprised of shari’a courts, magistrate courts, and several specialised courts and tribunals. Shari’a courts hear civil and minor criminal cases, and judgements are made according to Ibadi doctrine. The Court of Appeal in Muscat staffed by 3 qadis hears appeals from the first instance shari’a courts. The highest level of judiciary is Complaints Committee.

Since the 1970s, the jurisdiction of shari’a courts has been reduced. Magistrates Courts hear misdemeanour cases. The Criminal Court in Muscat hears cases involving felonies and serves as appellate court. Other specialised courts and quasi-judicial tribunals in various areas of land, commercial, labour and tax law apply state-issued legislation.

The Sultan issued several royal decrees to establish a law on judicial authority and to affirm the independence of the judiciary as called for in the 1996 Basic Charter. The decrees formally establish the judiciary as an independent, hierarchical system composed of a Supreme Court, an appeals court, primary courts (one located in each region), and, within the primary courts, divisional courts. Within each of the courts there are to be divisions to handle commercial, civil, penal, labor, taxation, general, and personal cases (the latter under Shari'a). The general prosecutor, which currently falls under the Royal Omani Police Chief Inspector, is to become an independent legal entity. Implementation of these decrees is expected to take place during 2000

Notable Features: Classical Ibadi fiqh is applied to personal status matters.

Notable Cases:  

Law/Case Reporting System: Law reports of Royal Decrees and Ministerial Decisions are published in the Official Gazette.

International Conventions (with Relevant Reservations): Oman acceded to the CRC in 1996 with a number of reservations. The reservation to Article 21 states that a general reservation is submitted to provisions that do not accord with Islamic law or the Sultanate’s state legislation, particularly those provisions relating to adoption. The reservation to Articles 14 and 30 states that Oman does not consider itself bound by those provisions that grant children the freedom of religion or that "allow a child belonging to a religious minority to profess his or her own religion".

Background and Sources: Amin, Middle East Legal Systems, Glasgow, 1985; El Alami & Hinchcliffe, “The Uncodified Law” in Islamic Marriage and Divorce Laws of the Arab World, London, 1996; Ballantyne, Commercial Law in the Arab Middle East: The Gulf States, London, 1986; Mahmood, “Gulf” in Statutes of Personal Law in Islamic Countries, 2nd ed., New Delhi, 1995; Redden, “Oman” in Modern Legal Systems Cyclopedia, vol. 5, Buffalo, NY, 1990; Riphenburg, Oman: Political Development in a Changing World, London, 1998.