Iran’s constitution* gives the power to approve laws to the legislature. Iran’s legislature is comprised of the parliament and the Guardian Council. This function cannot be transferred to any other organization.
The process of approving legislation begins with the presentation of a bill to the parliament by the government or the Provincial Supreme Council. A plan signed by 15 parliament members can also be entered as a bill.
First Step: Bill Presentation to Majlis (Parliament)
Before sending a bill to the parliament, it needs to be signed by the Council of Ministers, which includes all the government ministers as members.
Normally the presidential administration sends a bill to parliament for approval. Once reception of the bill is confirmed, the process begins.
The Supreme Council of the Provinces can also submit bills to parliament for approval. The council can do this directly or go through the administration (Article 102). The Supreme Council of the Provinces consists of the representatives of provincial councils who present civil plans and supervise the performance of those plans. (Article 102)
The Supreme Council of the Provinces is the only organization which is allowed to send a bill to the parliament independently from the administration. Other branches of Iran’s political structure such as the judiciary need to send their bills to the administration first.
Members of parliament (MPs) can also present a bill after it has the signed support of 15 MPs. (Article 131: Parliament Bylaws)
Second Step: Reception, Confirmation, and Referring to Committee
The executive board of the parliament is responsible for announcing the receipt of bills, reviewing them, and referring them to special committees for more in-depth analysis. The secretary of the parliament is required to announce submissions within 2 sessions (Article 75).
The plan/bill needs to be printed and made accessible for all MPs. (Article 144)
Since the 2008 executive decision from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Secretary of the Parliament is required to send a copy of all plans or bills to the Expediency Discernment Council, which was instituted to resolve conflicts between the parliament and the Guardian Council. The Expediency Discernment Council determines if the content is appropriate for the general policy of the state. If any part of a bill or plan deviates from state policy, it needs to be modified. The Guardian Council is also required to review the content of bills/plans with the same objective in mind.
In a written decision to Expediency Discernment Council, the Supreme Leader wrote:
“After receiving plans and bills, the secretary of parliament is obliged to send copies to the Expediency Discernment Council. While reviewing the plans and bills, especially those related to the law and budget law, the council may check that the content is in accordance with the general policies of Iran.”
The parliament’s Monitoring Committee reports on cases which are considered to deviate from major policies to the Expediency Discernment Council. If the council accepts the issues, the cases will be discussed in related parliamentary committees. If the final decision of the parliament is negative, the Guardian Council can express the viewpoint of the Expediency Discernment Council in a session of parliament.
• A copy of the plan is submitted to the administration for information and comments. A representative from the administration announces the opinion at committee sessions.
• The plan or bill should be presented under a clear title and topic. In the introduction, the bill’s sponsors summarize the contents of the bill, outlining its justifications.
• After its submission is confirmed, the plan or bill may be returned for further for a number of reasons. Those include: a) a group of MPs has submitted a written request to return the submission; b) the number of MPs who have signed the plan is fewer than 15; c) general parts of the plan have not met with approval.
• If the general parts of the plan have already been approved by parliament, one opponent and one supporter are given the opportunity to speak for 10 minutes each. (Article 133, Parliamentary bylaws).
Bills can also be submitted through the Council of Ministers.
This may be done before the approval of a plan’s general parts. The president is required to explain the justifications for returning a submission in writing. Parliament should be informed in public session.
If the general parts of a bill have already been approved by the parliament and it is in the final approval process, the related minister may present the president’s request and explain the reasons for it in a public session of parliament. An opponent of the minister’s request is also provided time to speak. If the parliament accepts the minister’s request, the bill can be returned.
Third Step: Reviewing and Reporting
All bills and plans which have been referred to special committees after reviewing are voted on at the Primary Committee. The result of voting and comments is submitted to the parliament executive board. The board is obligated to analyze the bill in view of its level of urgency.
If the bill or plan has various aspects, both the Primary and Subsidiary Committees will be involved in its analysis. The Primary Committee is obliged to collect and review the reports of Subsidiary Committees as well. If the opinion of the Subsidiary Committee is different from the Primary Committee, representatives of each committee explain their opinions. (Article 145: Parliament Bylaws)
Step 4: Reviewing and Voting
Reviewing and approval of all plans and bills is done in one session of the Primary Committee except for particular cases described in the parliament’s bylaws. Those need to be reviewed in two sessions. (Article 143: Parliament Bylaws)
The process of bill/plan approval:
In one-session investigations first the general parts of the bill/plan are discussed. If approved, the parliament reviews the content.
In two-session investigations first the general parts are reviewed and approved and then the plan/bill is submitted to special committees.
Plans and bills can be submitted to the parliament as “Express Bills/Plans.” There are three levels of urgency. Express bills/plans are receive a rating by level of urgency.
Step 5 : Guardian Council’s Opinion
After approval by the parliament, the Parliament Board will refer the bill to the Guardian Council. The council is obliged to announce its opinion within 10 days (Article 199). If the council’s opinion is the same as that of the parliament, the parliament secretary will sign the bill into law resolution and send it to the administration to bring it into practice.
If the Guardian Council requests modification, the council’s opinion will be referred to the Parliament’s special committees. The committees review Guardian Council’s opinion and forms their own opinion. The committee report and the opinion of Guardian Council are reviewed in a public session of parliament. If parliament approves the modified version of the resolution, it is sent to the Guardian Council for final approval. If the parliament insists on the content of the first version, it is referred to the Expediency Discernment Council. (Article 202)
– If the Guardian Council does not announce its opinion within 10 days, the resolution is considered approved, and then parliament’s secretary can sign the resolution and send it to the administration for implementation.
– During the analysis of the Guardian Council’s opinion in committee or at a public session of the parliament, a member of Guardian Council may be present to explain their comments.
Timing for a Plan/Bill Approval
A plan/bill is expected to be reviewed in a certain period of time from its confirmed submission to the final approval. The duration varies depending on the level of urgency. This duration does not include the time spent on research and preparation of the plan/bill.
Based on article 160 of parliament’s bylaws, all plans/bills are considered as “normal priority.” An urgent classifications requires documented reasons or situations:
– Urgency 1: A pressing social need.
– Urgency 2: The need to prevent damages (i.e., economic).
– Urgency 3: Extremely critical situation in need of quick attention.
The priority of plans/bills determines their reviewing time by the parliament.
This is the fastest process of approval in Iran. This level of urgency can be presented to the parliament only in a “highly critical situation” (i.e., a natural disaster).
Presenting a bill with level-3 urgency is a rare event. When it occurs, the Parliament Board is obliged to listen to two of opponents and two of advocates. If the parliament approves the level of urgency, the bill is reviewed and voted on at the same session. (Article 66)
For Urgency 3 plans/bills members of the Guardian Council must also be present in the parliament to express their decision.
The process of reviewing bills/plans marked as urgency-2 is also quite short. Those need to be approved or rejected within 72 hours.
After urgency 2 status is approved, bills/plans must be referred to committee within 4 hours. (Article 165)
MPs have 20 hours to send their comments on the bill/plan to the committee.
Within 72 hours parliament begins to review. If the committee has not provides its own report, the parliament will review the details itself.
At least one hour before the negotiations, MPs’ suggestions will be printed and distributed at the parliament.
There is no specified time limits for bills/plans marked urgency 1. The classification means that they should be reviewed and processed faster than regular bills and plans, or out of process (Persian: khaarej az nowbat)
According to the Article 163 of the parliament’s bylaws, after approval, bills and plans classified as urgency 1 are referred to the main and subsidiary committees to be analyzed out of the. The committee reports on is then printed and distributed among the MPs at least 48 hours before presentation to the parliament.
After receiving the committee reports urgency 1 bills/plans are to be reviewed and voted on at the in one session.
Unclassified Plans or Bills
There is no deadline for reviewing unclassified bills/plans. Because of the high-volume of bills submitted to parliament, reviews sometimes last longer than a 4-year term of parliament.
All plans/bills submitted to the parliament are referred to specialized committees. It is unusual that a committee is able to review all submissions within a 4-year term. Because of this, most bills and plans are submitted to the parliament with as urgent. Most of the time MPs reject the urgency classification.
Role and Effect of Supreme Leader in Law-Making Process
Iran’s constitution and domestic law does not designate any direct role for the supreme leader. According to the constitution, the parliament is independent. In reality, the supreme leader influences the law-making process.
Members of Guardian Council with the power to approve or reject parliament resolutions are directly or indirectly selected by the supreme leader. The opinion of the supreme leader is always considered.
The Guardian Council is obliged to check the resolutions of the parliament regarding their coordination with Islamic law and Iran’s Constitution. Any kind of contradiction is a reason for rejection.
From the Guardian Council’s point of view the opinion of the governing jurist (Velayat Faqih, currently the supreme leader) is preferred. No law can be approved in Iran that contradicts the supreme leader’s will.
Organizations under the direct supervision of the supreme leader are also considered in the legislative process. Now legislative process related to these organization can begin without the supreme leader’s permission. For example, if the parliament is creating a law to change the structure of the state-run radio and television, the supreme leader must first give permission. The supreme leader has ultimate control of state broadcasting. Without his approval, the Guardian Council will reject the resolution.
Sometimes the supreme leader directly intervenes in the legislative process with an official verdict. One controversial example is the 2000 verdict to prevent MPs from modifying the Media Law. The verdict was issued by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Parliament is obligated to coordinate its resolutions with major policies of the state. This was the decision of the Expediency Discernment Council. (See step 2).
In fact, the main policies of the Expediency Discernment Council are the supreme leader’s dictated policies. These policies have been compiled by the council and confirmed by the supreme leader. Within this structure, the parliament cannot approve any law which is in contradiction with the supreme leader’s policy.
The legislative process in Iran is an executive right of the parliament, but parliament’s resolutions without the approval of the Guardian Council have no legal validity. The only option for approving a law without the Guardian Council’s approval is with the support of the Expediency Discernment Council.
The administration, the Supreme Council of the Provinces, and MPs are the only bodies that can request a new law’s approval or modify previous laws.
The judiciary in Iran has no role in the law-making process. It is only responsible for enacting the law and prosecuting violators. The only role of the judiciary in the legislative process is compiling the bills and presenting them to the ministers. Without the confirmation of the Council of Ministers, a bill cannot be presented to parliament.
Although Iran’s Constitution stipulates that legislation is an executive right of the Islamic Parliament (Majlis), the parliament is always obliged to consider the major policies of the state. Those have been approved by the Expediency Discernment Council. In fact, the Expediency Discernment Council is responsible for making major policy, and the parliament has no role.
(* The articles referred to in this piece are 58, 71, 74, 75, 85, 102, 131, 133, 143, 144, 145, in addition to those marked in the text)