Saudi legal reforms ‘to speed access to justice’

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Time: 08 February 2021

  • Crown Prince says previous discrepancies in court rulings hurt many — especially women
  • Sweeping reforms will bring clarity and consistency to legal process

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia is to implement sweeping reforms to the legal system to eliminate inconsistency, speed up verdicts and make the Kingdom’s judicial institutions more efficient.

At the heart of the reforms are four new draft laws — a Personal Status Law, a Civil Transactions Law, a Penal Code for Discretionary Sanctions, and a Law of Evidence.

The new laws would eliminate discrepancies and ensure consistency in court rulings, improve the reliability of oversight mechanisms, and clarify accountability, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said.

The crown prince said discrepancies in court rulings had led to a lack of clarity, which had hurt many people, mostly women. “The absence of applicable legislation has led to discrepancies in decisions and a lack of clarity in the principles governing facts and practices,” he said.

“That resulted in prolonged litigation not based on legal texts. In addition, the absence of a clear legal framework for private and business sectors has led to ambiguity with respect to obligations.

“This was painful for many individuals and families, especially women. It also permitted some people to evade their responsibilities. This will not take place again.”

A previous draft Code of Judicial Decisions was insufficient to meet society’s needs and expectations, the crown prince said. The new draft laws will be submitted to the Council of Ministers for review before being sent to the Shoura Council, and are expected to be finalized this year.

The crown prince said the Kingdom had taken major steps in recent years to develop its legislative environment.  The aim was to preserve rights, entrench the principles of justice and transparency, protect human rights and achieve sustainable development.

The new laws adopt international judicial practices and standards in a manner that does not contradict Sharia principles, the crown prince said.

Saudi Justice Minister Dr. Walid bin Mohammed Al-Samaani, president of the Supreme Judicial Council, said the new penal code would enhance the application of justice in criminal cases.

It was based on strong legal principles and modern legal practice, he said, classifying crimes into different categories according to their nature, magnitude and consequences, and the penalties applicable in each case.

Saudi lawyer Dimah Al-Sharif told Arab News the reforms would “contribute to an unprecedented standardization of the system of rulings,” particularly in relation to family law. “We will bid farewell to the wide and indefinite scope of discretion that a judge enjoys,” she said.

At the moment, she said, there were often wide discrepancies in judicial rulings on different cases in which the facts and circumstances were essentially the same. The reforms, she said, “will play a huge role in empowering not only women, but the whole of society.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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