Legal Sightseeing Amman

Law as informal pavement business in Amman

by Dorien Keizer


Walking on pavements in the Jordanian capital Amman is always slightly perilous, due to the many sudden irregularities in hight and erratic appearance of trees and lampposts. But walking past the massive and imposing Palace of Justice, it is something else that interrupts your way: gentlemen running informal businesses, shielded from the elements by nothing more than old parasols.

At first, I stood and gazed at the little tables and old typewriters, not understanding what happens here. When two of the men invited me over and enquired what papers I required, I admitted I was merely curious and they offered me tea instead. Asked what the various papers were, they assessed my understanding of Arabic and merely replied ‘documents for justice’, pointing at the building behind them. Later, when I asked a passing lawyer (robe hanging over his arm), he said the documents these men provide are for people who have cases or other business inside. If they have their forms and documents ready to pass to the judges, the process is quicker and goes more smoothly. If you’re unable or unwilling to write the necessary documents yourself, you go to the men on the pavement. But what sort of cases are these? What sort of court? My Arabic wasn’t quick enough not to keep him up for too long if I asked, as he was in a bit of a hurry, and I was left wondering.

A quick search online finally put the pieces together. The Palace of Justice, located next to the Parliament in the centre of Amman, contains a host of different courts and legal bureaucratic departments. These include anything from the Jordanian High Court, through to the Court for Shar’ia Cases, the Penal Court for Amman, all the way down to the Court of First Instance for the neighbouring parts of the city, and also departments including that of the Public Prosecutor and the one supervising taxation. Since Amman is a city of about four million inhabitants, it’s no wonder the place is buzzing with activity.

The Ministry of Justice website, furthermore, tells us that anyone has direct access to the services of courts, which also include notary public services, without necessarily requiring a lawyer, provided they fill out the proper official forms and attach the relevant documents. For services for which no official form exists, a written summons must be provided.

Someone, one day, saw a business opportunity here. Now there’s a row of little tables, with some of the men specialists in particular kinds of paperwork. While clearly informal, they are sanctioned by the armed police that guard the street, and have become an important little cog in the vast machine of legal justice in Jordan. And a spellbinding sight.





Dorien Keizer is legal sightseeing correspondent in Amman. She is also a doctoral student in Middle East politics at Durham University in the UK. She is currently living in Jordan to conduct fieldwork for her project on everyday political life amidst abandoned large-scale construction projects in Amman.

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