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Bahrain: Outline of the Court System and Jurisdiction of the Courts

Overview

The Bahrain court system and the jurisdiction of the Bahrain courts are governed by Bahrain Decree-Law No. 42/2002 On the Issuance of the Judiciary Law. Bahrain Decree-Law No. 42/2002 is the main law defining the categories of the Bahrain courts and classifying the jurisdiction of each level/degree of the courts.

Bahrain’s judicial system consists of Civil Courts, Criminal Courts, and Sharia Courts. There are other courts that have their own specific laws, such as the BCDR Court and the Constitutional Court.

This Practice Notice will provide an overview of the Bahrain court system, focusing on the categories and structure of the Bahrain courts and identifying the jurisdiction of each level/degree of the courts.

Practical Guidance

Civil Courts

The Civil Courts comprise of:

  • The Court of Cassation.
  • The High Court of Appeal.
  • The High Court.
  • The Lower Court.
  • The Court of Urgent Matters.
  • The Court of Execution.

The core legislation governing the procedures of the Civil Courts is Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12/1971 on the Issuance of the Civil and Commercial Procedures Law (as amended).

The Civil Courts have the power to adjudicate all disputes relating to civil, commercial, and administrative matters, as well as disputes relating to the domestic relations and personal status of non-Muslims (article 1 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12/1971 and article 6 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 42/2002).

The Lower Court

The Lower Court has jurisdiction over a variety of cases, as per article 8 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12/1971, which include (among others):

  • Civil and commercial cases where the value of the claim does not exceed BHD 5,000.
  • Employment disputes.
  • Cases concerning the division and sale of jointly owned movable or immovable property.
  • Cases relating to vacating leased property, except where such cases involve demands in excess of BHD 5,000.
  • Cases relating to the alteration or correction of a name in the official registers and documents.
  • Cases relating to the damage or loss of title deeds of properties.

The High Court

The High Court has jurisdiction to hear (in the first instance) all civil cases not falling within the jurisdiction of the Lower Courts and all disputes concerning the personal status of non-Muslims (article 10 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12/1971).

Additionally, the High Court has jurisdiction to:

  • resolve (through an administrative department) administrative disputes arising between individuals and the government or public authorities (article 7 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 42/2002);
  • adjudicate incidental pleas together with the original claims that have been referred by the Lower Courts (article 13 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12/1971); and
  • hear all cases that any other law provides will be heard by the High Court.

The High Court has the jurisdiction to adjudicate on appeals from all judgments and decisions issued by the Lower Courts and the Court of Execution (article 11 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12/1971) and has the exclusive jurisdiction to examine appeals filed against judgments issued by the Court of Urgent Matters (article 8 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12/1971). Appeals are determined on the basis of the evidence, pleas, and new defences submitted together with the submissions made before the Court of First Instance (article 224 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12/1971). As per article 228 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12/1971, the High Court has the jurisdiction to decide either to:

  • reject or accept the appealed judgment;
  • accept but amend it; or
  • cancel the appealed judgment and issue an alternative judgment on the merits of the claim.

The High Court of Appeal

The High Court of Appeal has the jurisdiction to review judgments issued in the first instance by a High Court against which an appeal has been made (article 12 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12/1971).

Appeals are determined on the basis of the evidence, pleas, and new defences submitted, together with the submissions made before the Lower Court (article 224 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12/1971). As per article 228 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12/1971, the Court of Appeal has the jurisdiction to decide either to:

  • reject or accept the appealed judgment;
  • accept but amend it; or
  • cancel the appealed judgment and issue an alternative judgment on the merits of the claim.

The Court of Cassation

The Court of Cassation is the highest appellate court in each division of the judiciary. The Court of Cassation has jurisdiction to hear challenges of final judgments issued by the competent courts of appeal in respect of civil, commercial, and criminal cases, and personal status matters for Muslims and non-Muslims. The powers of the Court of Cassation are summarised as follows:

  • Hear challenges of final judgments issued by the Civil or Sharia High Court of Appeal or the Civil or Sharia High Court (in its capacity as an appeal court) or hear appeals by way of cassation against criminal judgments issued by the High Court of Appeal or by the High Court (in their capacity as appeal courts) in respect of matters of felonies and misdemeanours if:
    • the contested judgment is based upon a violation of the law or an error in the application or the interpretation thereof; and
    • there is any invalidity in the judgment or procedures affecting the judgment (articles 8 and 27 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 8/1989 on the Issuance of the Court of Cassation Law).
  • Hear challenges against any final judgment, irrespective of the court that issued the judgment, which settled a dispute contrary to another judgment previously issued that concerned the same litigant and acquired the force of res judicata (article 9 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 8/1989).
  • Order the temporary stay of execution of judgments if such a stay has been requested in the memorandum of appeal and if it is feared that the execution may result in substantial damage that may not be avoided (article 10 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 8/1989).
  • Determine the competent court which has jurisdiction to hear a dispute in respect of cases filed in respect of a single issue before a Sharia Court and a Civil Court or before two different divisions of the Sharia Courts, where neither of the courts has relinquished the hearing thereof, or both have relinquished the hearing (article 6 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 8/1989).
  • Decide a dispute arising in respect of the execution of two contradictory judgments one of which was passed by a Civil Court and the other by a Sharia Court, or both were passed by two different chambers of the Sharia Courts (article 6 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 8/1989).
  • Reconsider final judgments in respect of matters of felonies and misdemeanours (article 43 of the Bahrain Decree-Law No. 8/1989).
  • Hear pleas of forgery filed by the litigants with regard to documents submitted for the first time (article 53 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 8/1989).

The judgments issued by the Court of Cassation cannot be challenged through any means of appeal whatsoever (article 54 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 8/1989).

Further jurisdiction of the Bahrain courts in civil cases

Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12/1971 provides the courts of Bahrain with jurisdiction to hear the following claims:

  • Claims brought against any non-Bahraini who has domicile or place of residence in Bahrain (article 14 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12/1971).
  • Claims brought against any non-Bahraini who has no place of residence in Bahrain if, inter alia:
    • the non-Bahraini has elected domicile in Bahrain;
    • the action relates to an asset in Bahrain or to any obligation arising or performed or to be performed;
    • if the action relates to any matter affecting the control of any asset where any minor or any person against
    • whom any restraint or for whom any judicial assistance is sought has domicile or residence in Bahrain; or
    • one of the defendants has domicile or place of residence in Bahrain (article 15 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12 /1971).
  • Claims relating to estates where the administration of such estate has commenced in Bahrain or the deceased was a Bahraini, or the assets constituting the estate were wholly or partly in Bahrain (article 16 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12 /1971).
  • Claims where the litigant explicitly or implicitly accepts its jurisdiction, even if it does not fall within the jurisdiction of the courts of Bahrain (article 17 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12/1971).
  • Claims which cause the courts of Bahrain to make provisional and precautionary measures to have effect in Bahrain, even if the courts of Bahrain have no jurisdiction to hear the original claim (article 19 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12 /1971).

The Court of Urgent Matters

The Court of Urgent Matters has the jurisdiction to hear all urgent cases, including cases that are subject to the jurisdiction of another court (article 8 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12/1971).

The Court of Urgent Matters has the power to adjudicate urgent cases (on a temporary basis) where it is feared the subject matter will be affected by the lapse of time before the regular courts can resolve it.

Additionally, the Court of Urgent Matters has the authority to order the appointment of a judicial receiver over seized or disputed funds or a right which is not established and which is in immediate danger (article 180 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12 /1971).

The Court of Execution

The Court of Execution has jurisdiction to enforce writs of execution, which include judgments and decisions made by the court, arbitral awards, authenticated deeds, conciliation reports ratified by the courts, and any other documents characterised by law (articles 1-2 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 22/2021 On the Promulgation of the Execution Law in Civil and Commercial Matters).

The Court of Execution has the power to, among other things:

  • Issue execution-related decisions and orders (article 1 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 22/2021).
  • Enforce final judgments and provisional execution of judgments that are compulsory by force of law or ordered in the judgment (articles 10-12 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 22/2021).
  • Enforce official instruments drafted in any foreign country (article 17 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 22/2021).
  • Order the attachment of movables belonging to a judgment debtor and their sale; order the attachment of shares, bonds, revenues, and stocks and their sale; order the attachment of funds held by third parties, the seizure of salaries and wages, the attachment of real estate and their sale and distribution of the proceeds (article 33 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 22/2021).
  • Order, at the request of the judgment creditor, a travel ban on the judgment debtor (article 40 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 22/2021).
  • Order the annotation of the judgment debtor’s credit register (article 42 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 22/2021).
  • Instruct the Survey and Real Estate Registration Authority, the Central Bank of Bahrain, the General Traffic Department, the Coast Guard, the Commercial Registry, the Bahrain Stock Exchange, and the Authentication Department to notify the Court of Execution immediately of any transactions related to the funds of the judgment
    debtor (article 43 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 22/2021).
  • Undertake execution procedures against commercial companies licensed in accordance with the Bahrain Decree-Law No. 21/2001 on the Issuance of the Commercial Companies Law and against financial institutions licensed under Bahrain Law No. 64/2006 on the Issuance of the Central Bank of Bahrain and Financial Institutions Law (chapters 3 and 4 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 22/2021).

The BCDR Court

The Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution Court (BCDR Court) was established by virtue of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 30/2009 on Bahrain Chamber for the Settlement of Economic, Financial and Investment Disputes (as amended).

The BCDR Court has jurisdiction over claims with a value exceeding BHD 500,000 (approximately US$1.3 million) and that are of an international commercial nature. It also has jurisdiction over disputes exceeding BHD 500,000 which are between financial institutions licensed by the Central Bank of Bahrain or between one or more such institutions and other institutions, companies, or individuals; and disputes exceeding BHD 500,000 between commercial companies licensed in Bahrain and relating to obligations from the commercial relationship between them.

The BCDR Court also has jurisdiction over real estate claims with a value exceeding BHD 500,000 relating to specific real estate claims where the dispute arises out of off-plan sale, usufruct rights, utilisation and development rights, long-term lease rights, lease to own rights, lease rights, or claims that relate to Owners Union, or arises out of real estate works or projects relating to a resolution of the Real Estate Regulatory Authority. The BCDR Court also has jurisdiction over disputes relating to trusts that are governed by Bahrain Decree-Law No. 23/2016 On Trusts.

BCDR Court judgments are final judgments and can only be challenged in the Court of Cassation on very limited grounds. 

The Sharia Courts

The Sharia Court has jurisdiction to adjudicate all disputes related to the personal status of Muslims, save for disputes that are related to inheritance, which are under the jurisdiction of the competent Civil Courts (article 13 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 42/2002). Bahrain Decree-Law No. 42/2002 and Bahrain Legislative Decree No. 26/1986 Law of Procedures before Sharia Courts are the principal legislation governing the procedures of the Sharia Courts in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Sharia Courts are comprised of the following (article 13 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 42/2002):

  • The Court of Cassation.
  • The High Sharia Court of Appeal.
  • The High Sharia Court.
  • The Lower Sharia Court.

Each of the Sharia Courts is further divided into two divisions: the Sunni Sharia Division and the Jaafari Sharia Division, which have the competence to adjudicate personal status claims for Muslims on the basis of the claimant’s sect at the time of filing the claim (article 14 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 42/2002).

The Lower Sharia Court

The Lower Sharia Court is competent to adjudicate (in the first instance) alimonies, right to child’s custody, guardianship, and travel with the child to another country, proof of inheritance, gifts, wills, and drafting inheritance deeds, drafting all types of legal deeds, and notarisation of instruments and deeds related to personal status matters and waqf (endowment) deeds and any amendments (article 17 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 42/2002).

The High Sharia Court

The High Sharia Court is competent to issue judgments (in the first instance) with respect to all personal status matters that are not subject to the jurisdiction of the Lower Sharia Court (article 18 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 42/2002). The High Sharia Court has the jurisdiction (in its capacity as an appeal court) to issue final judgments concerning any appealed judgments that have been issued by the Lower Sharia Court (article 18 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 42/2002).

The Sharia Court of Appeal

The High Sharia Court of Appeal has the jurisdiction to adjudicate appealed judgments that have been issued by the High Sharia Court in the first instance (article 19 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 42/2002).

Criminal Courts

The Criminal Courts have the jurisdiction to deal with criminal matters being prosecuted by the Public Prosecution, which is the sole competent authority to initiate and conduct a criminal action (article 7 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 46/2002 on the Issuance of the Code of Criminal Procedure (as amended)).

Bahrain Decree-Law No. 46/2002 outlines the types of Criminal Courts and classifies the jurisdiction of each court. The Criminal Courts comprise of:

  • The Court of Cassation.
  • The High Criminal Court of Appeal.
  • The High Criminal Court.
  • The Lower Courts.

The Lower Courts have jurisdiction to hear cases related to misdemeanours and offences.

The High Criminal Court has jurisdiction to hear felonies and appeals of judgments issued by the Lower Court in respect of cases of misdemeanours and offences.

The High Criminal Court of Appeal has jurisdiction to examine and determine judgments issued in the first instance by the High Criminal Court against which an appeal has been made. (article 181 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 46/2002).

Other courts

There are other courts that exist outside the general organised structure of the judiciary, having jurisdiction by their own specific laws, such as the Constitutional Court, which has exclusive jurisdiction to hear disputes related to the constitutionality of the laws and regulations (article 16 of Bahrain-Decree Law No. 27/2002 Constitutional Court Law).

Related Content

  • Bahrain Decree-Law No. 12/1971 on the Issuance of the Civil and Commercial Procedures Law (as amended)
  • Bahrain Legislative Decree No. 26/1986 Law of Procedures before Sharia Courts
  • Bahrain Decree-Law No. 8/1989 on the Issuance of the Court of Cassation Law
  • Bahrain Decree-Law No. 21/2001 on the Issuance of the Commercial Companies Law
  • Bahrain Decree-Law No. 46/2002 on the Issuance of the Code of Criminal Procedure (as amended)
  • Bahrain Law No. 64/2006 on the Issuance of the Central Bank of Bahrain and Financial Institutions Law
  • Bahrain Decree-Law No. 30/2009 on Bahrain Chamber for the Settlement of Economic, Financial and Investment Disputes (as amended)
  • Bahrain Decree-Law No. 23/2016 On Trusts
  • Bahrain Decree-Law No. 42/2002 On the Issuance of the Judiciary Law
  • Bahrain Decree-Law No. 22/2021 On the Promulgation of the Execution Law in Civil and Commercial Matters
  • Bahrain-Decree Law No. 27/2002 Constitutional Court Law

This article was orignally published by LexisNexis Middle East.

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