The Real Estate Judiciary in Syria dates back to Delimitation and Census Law No. 186 of 1926. Since the law was passed, there has been no clear definition of the Real Estate Judiciary or real estate judges. However, the body violates the principle of judicial independence by remaining subservient to the executive authority.
Under Law No. 186, real estate judges oversee the delimitation and census process in place of “ordinary” justices of the peace. They also handle disputes arising from delimitation and census. In accordance with the law, the Minister of Justice appoints real estate judges by decree based on a proposal from the Minister of Agriculture. These appointed judges are affiliated with the Ministry of Agriculture and monitored by the General Directorate of Cadastral Affairs.
Real Estate Judges Law No. 16 of 2014 brought new changes to the role of these judges, as well as the mechanism for appointing them. For one, the Minister of Justice is tasked with appointing the judges based on a proposal from the General Director of Cadastral Affairs rather than the Minister of Agriculture.
However, neither Law No. 186, nor Law No. 16 include any explicit definition of the real estate judge or Real Estate Judiciary and instead only specify their jurisdiction and mechanism for appointment. The definition of the Real Estate Judiciary may be deduced based on Law No. 16 as the judiciary that grants legitimacy to the delimitation and census process and the registration of real estate matters in the Land Records and that considers any related disputes and objections.
All this means that the Real Estate Judiciary has its own special character. It is outside the jurisdiction of the Ordinary Judiciary of the Supreme Judicial Council, which appoints, transfers, and dismisses judges. These judges work under the Judicial Authority Law No. 98 of 1961. However, under Law No. 16, real estate judges work under the Basic Statute for State Workers No. 50 of 2004 and report to the General Director of Cadastral Affairs. Real estate judges are considered independent staff members within the General Directorate of Cadastral Affairs and submit periodic reports to the General Director. The Minister of Justice is responsible for decisions to appoint, transfer, or dismiss these judges or to enact penalties against them. The Ministry of Local Administration and Environment issues a decree to determine the number of real estate judges in each governorate based on a proposal from the General Director of Cadastral Affairs.
Such affiliation indicates the direct subordination of real estate judges to the executive authority. Indeed, the direct authority figure for each real estate judge is the General Director of Cadastral Affairs, who is a member of the executive branch. This power structure explicitly violates the principle of the separation of powers. It also violates the principle of judicial independence, which prohibits other authorities from interfering in the work of the judiciary, especially given that the tasks and jurisdictions entrusted to the judiciary are of great importance for their direct impact on housing, land, and property rights.
Under Law No. 16, real estate judges are appointed from a pool of Cadastral Affairs employees who have law degrees and have been staff members for at least five years or who have law degrees and have been selected based on a competition held by the Directorate of Cadastral Affairs.
Real estate judges under Law No. 16 have jurisdiction over everything related to delimitation and census processes and disputes arising therein, real estate beautification work, and the termination of common property. They do not have jurisdiction to handle disputes related to real estate ownership, including registry of sales. Instead, such cases are within the purview of the Civil Judiciary, that is, the Magistrates’ Courts and Civil Courts of First Instance, according to the Code of Civil Procedure.