Saudi Arabia announces major judicial reforms

Saudi Arabia on Monday announced plans to approve a set of new draft laws designed to enhance the efficiency and integrity of the kingdom's judicial system.
Saudi Arabia announces major judicial reforms

People spend time at a mall near a closed food court in the Saudi capital Riyadh, on February 5, 2021.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Monday announced plans to approve a set of new draft laws designed to enhance the efficiency and integrity of the kingdom’s judicial system, a step that would eventually lead to an entirely codified law.

The prince, often referred to by his initials MBS, has launched a series of social and economic reforms aimed at modernizing the conservative kingdom, which has no codified system of law to go with the texts making up Shura or Islamic law.

The state news agency quoted the prince on Monday as saying that four new laws — the personal status law, the civil transactions law, the penal code of discretionary sanctions and the law of evidence — are being finalized and will be submitted to the Cabinet and relevant bodies as well as the advisory Shura Council, before they are finally approved.

“The new laws represent a new wave of reforms that will ... increase the reliability of procedures and oversight mechanisms as cornerstones in achieving the principles of justice, clarifying the lines of accountability,” Prince Mohammed said in the statement.

A Saudi official said on Monday that setting clear codes to four major and fundamental laws through applying the best international practices and standards means the kingdom is “definitely moving towards codifying the entire law” to meet the needs of the modern world while adhering to Sharia principles.

“While there is a decent and independent judiciary, the main criticism is that it is not consistent and judges have significant discretion on many of these issues, which leads to inconsistency and unpredictability,” the Saudi official said.

Having no written laws that govern certain incidents had for decades resulted in discrepancy in court rulings and prolonged litigation, hurting many Saudis, mostly women.

Riyadh has, for example, long endured international censure over the guardianship system that assigns each women a male relative — a father, brother, husband or son — whose approval was needed for big decisions.

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