Country Profile: North Korea

This Country Profile provides a basic overview of the legal history and institutional structures of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea/North Korea (Choson-minjujuui-inmin-konghwaguk), based on research produced by GlobaLex at NYU Law School and the Library of Congress. Under North Korea's Constitution, Islamic law (sharīʿa or fiqh) has no legal status. 

Country Background

North Korea is located in East Asia, and is the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. North Korea is bounded by China and Russia to the north and South Korea to the south. The capital of North Korea is Pyongyang. The official language is Korean. The country's population in 2017 was estimated to be approximately 25.3 million. Traditionally, Koreans were predominantly Buddhist and Confucianist, with some Christian and syncretic Chondogyo (Religion of the Heavenly Way). However, upon the split of the historically unified Korea into North and South, autonomous religious activities have become almost nonexistent. Instead, government-sponsored religious groups exist to provide the illusion of religious freedom. 

It is also important to mention that North Korea is one of the most repressive authoritarian states in the world, ruled for seven decades by the Kim family and the Worker’s Party of Korea. The regime generates fearful obedience by its citizens through the use of public executions, arbitrary detention, and forced labor; by tightening travel restrictions to prevent North Koreans from escaping and seeking refuge overseas; and by systematically persecuting those with religious contacts inside and outside the country.

Constitution & Legal Structure

North Korea is referred to as a communist state and a dictatorship, headed by the Kim family (currently Kim Jong-Un). Upon liberation of Korea from Japanese control in 1945, the North Korean leadership removed all existing Japanese laws, and consulted Soviet advisors in North Korea to draft the 1948 North Korean Constitution and other laws and ordinances. Furthermore, North Korean judicial practice started to follow a Soviet structural pattern. For example, the courts exercised both punitive powers and a duty to educate criminals and the public about being faithful to the law and the party. Similar to other communist states, ordinary citizens served as people’s assessors on the bench alongside the judge.

Apart from Soviet legal practice, socialist theory had a significant impact on the North Korean legal system. North Korea initially adopted Marxist-Leninist principles in the name of socialism. However, North Korean leader Kim Il Sung preferred the Stalinist interpretation of law as a weapon to implement state policy. Although Marxist-Leninist ideology was the primary doctrine for the early North Korean state and society, this changed formally in 1972 when Juche philosophy, “a creative application of Marxist-Leninism to our own country’s reality,” was introduced in the Constitution. Juche is often translated simply as self-reliance or self-determination, but the concept is essentially a nationalist ideology of “North Korea first.” In 1992, reference to Marxism-Leninism in the Constitution was removed entirely.

Constitutional Status of Islamic Law

Islamic law has no constitutional status in North Korea.

Jurisdiction(s) of Islamic Law

Islamic law has no official jurisdiction of operation in North Korea

Dominant School of Islamic Law

North Korea no official school of Islamic law. 

Sources of Law for Legal Research

Official Publications

Unofficial Databases


For an extended list of legal resources for this country, see the Library of Congress’s Research Guide, and for a narrative review, see the GlobaLex Foreign Law Research Guide (most updated version, where available). The Constitution is available in the LOC Guide in its original language and at Constitute in English translation. For full versions of past constitutions, amendments, and related legislation, see HeinOnline World Constitutions Illustrated or Oxford Constitutions of the World [subscription required for each].