The court system until 2003 was made up of two distinct branches: a security component and a more conventional court system to handle other charges. There was no independence in the operation of the judiciary; the president could override any court decision.
The security courts had jurisdiction in all cases involving espionage, treason, political dissent, smuggling and currency exchange violations, and drug trafficking. The ordinary civil courts had jurisdiction over civil, commercial, and criminal cases except for those that fell under the jurisdiction of the religious courts. Courts of general jurisdiction were established at governorate headquarters and in the principal districts.
Magistrates' courts tried criminal cases in the first instance, but they could not try cases involving punishment of more than seven years in prison. Such cases were tried in courts of sessions that were also appellate instances for magistrates' courts. Each judicial district had courts of sessions presided over by a bench of 3 judges. There were no jury trials. Special courts to try national security cases were set up in 1965; verdicts of these courts could be appealed to the military supreme court. In other cases, the highest court of appeal was the court of cassation in Baghdad, with civil and criminal divisions. It was composed of at least 15 judges, including a president and two vice-presidents.
For every court of First Instance, there was a Shari'ah (Islamic) court that ruled on questions involving religious matters and personal status. Trials were public and defendants were entitled to free counsel in the case of indigents. The government protected certain groups from prosecution. A 1992 decree granted immunity from prosecution to members of the Ba'ath Party. A 1990 decree granted immunity to men who killed their mothers, daughters, and other female family members who had committed "immoral deeds" such as adultery and fornication.
The judicial system is currently in transition following the April 2003 defeat of the Saddam Hussein regime.