Saudi legal reforms ‘to speed access to justice’

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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Saudi Arabia celebrates major leap in social equality

Time: 10 December 2020

In recent years, Saudis have enjoyed significant advances in the area of human rights. (AN photo)
  • Saudi Arabia has been working to promote sustainable development, the rule of law, justice and equality: rights chief

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia continues to make great strides in peace, justice and equality — hallmarks of a sustainable society. As the world celebrates UN Human Rights Day, Arab News looks back at the Kingdom’s achievements in 2020.
In recent years, Saudis have enjoyed significant advances in the area of human rights. The right for women to drive, the abolition of male guardianship over women and women’s ability to travel without male permission show that the Kingdom continues to make significant progress.
But equally important for human rights in the Kingdom was the easing of the sponsorship (kafala) system for migrant workers and contributions to the fight for gender equality.
In a statement marking Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, Saudi Human Rights Commission chief Dr. Awwad Al-Awwad said that the Kingdom under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been working to promote sustainable development, the rule of law, justice and equality.
“To this end, the Saudi leadership has implemented unprecedented human rights reforms, with more than 70 resolutions, and fulfilled all the commitments it made,” he said.
Al-Awwad said that this commitment reflects the support and attention that Saudi Arabia accords to human rights under its Vision 2030 reform program.
As the number of COVID-19 cases continued to rise in Saudi Arabia, King Salman ordered free treatment be provided to all coronavirus patients in government and private health facilities, even those in violation of residency laws.
The royal decree, born out of the king’s wish to put the health of citizens and residents first, and to ensure the safety of all, was delivered by the Saudi Health Minister, Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, on March 30 — a move few countries were able to match.

HIGHLIGHTS

• King Salman ordered free treatment be provided to all coronavirus patients in government and private health facilities, even those in violation of residency laws.

• Saudi Arabia eased the sponsorship system for migrant workers.

• The Kingdom allowed women to drive, abolished male guardianship over women.

“Saudi Arabia has given great importance and attention to fighting the pandemic both on the internal and external level,” Al-Awwad said.
In November, the Kingdom eased the sponsorship system for foreign expat workers, including contract restrictions that gave employers control over the lives of around 10 million migrant workers.
The new reforms will allow private sector workers to change jobs and leave the country without an employer’s consent.
Salma Al-Rashid, chief advocacy officer of the Al-Nahda Philanthropic Society for Women and Women 20 sherpa who has represented Saudi Arabia at the W20 since 2018, said that the G20 offered Saudi women unprecedented access to conversations that dictated their futures.
“The W20 this year allowed us to create a bridge between global and local conversations on what matters most to women and how we can ensure women’s economic empowerment,” she said.
According to a World Bank report released in January, the Saudi economy has made “the biggest progress globally toward gender equality since 2017.”
The study, which tracks how laws affect women in 190 economies, scored the Kingdom’s economy 70.6 points out of 100, a dramatic increase from its previous score of 31.8 points.
Issam Abu Sulaiman, the bank’s regional director for the GCC, said of the report: “Saudi Arabia, basically, has become one of the leaders in the Arab world in terms of women’s empowerment.”
Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to the US, also commented on the past few years’ developments in women’s rights in the country.
“These new regulations are history in the making. They call for the equal engagement of women and men in our society. It is a holistic approach to gender equality that will unquestionably create real change for Saudi women,” she tweeted.
Hanan Al-Hamad, a Saudi human rights activist and opinion writer, told Arab News that the Kingdom was doing a “remarkable job” regarding the strengthening of human rights in the country.
“Congratulations to our civil society in which human rights have become a source of strength and pride,” she said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Bangladeshis welcome Saudi labor reforms for foreign workers

Time: 17 November 2020

Foreign workers at a construction site in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Reuters)
  • Bangladeshi workers praised the new system which will base the relationship between employers and workers on a standard contract certified by the government
  • Remittances from Bangladeshis in Saudi Arabia reached $4 billion in the last fiscal year, according to data from the Bangladeshi Bureau of Manpower, Employment, and Training (BMET)

DHAKA: Bangladeshi migrant workers in Saudi Arabia have lauded new labor reforms in the Kingdom easing contractual restrictions on foreign employees.

Saudi authorities recently announced that a seven-decade-old sponsorship system, known as kafala, was to be abolished.

The reforms, due to come into effect in March, are aimed at making the Saudi labor market more attractive by granting more than 10 million foreign workers the right to change jobs and leave the country without employers’ permission.

Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, secretary-general of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA), told Arab News: “We welcome the decision of the Saudi government. It’s a very positive move. Now the workers can easily change their jobs which will definitely help them explore better opportunities in the job market of the Kingdom.”

He said that his organization was eagerly waiting to learn more about the new system and was looking forward to its implementation.

Saudi Arabia is the single largest destination for Bangladeshi migrant workers and more than 2 million of them are living in the Kingdom.

Every year, they send billions of dollars back to their home country. Remittances from Bangladeshis in Saudi Arabia reached $4 billion in the last fiscal year, according to data from the Bangladeshi Bureau of Manpower, Employment, and Training (BMET).

Shariful Hasan, migration head at Bangladesh-based international development agency BRAC, told Arab News that the new system would make life easier for migrant workers.

“It’s obvious that migrant workers will be benefitted through the reformation of the kafala system,” he said.

Under the current kafala system, migrant workers are generally bound to one employer.

Bangladeshi workers praised the new system which will base the relationship between employers and workers on a standard contract certified by the government, and will allow workers to apply directly for services via an e-government portal, instead of a mandatory employers’ approval.

“My shop is not doing good business since the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and I was planning to switch over the job. Now, I can take the decision on my own,” migrant worker Mohammed Hossain told Arab News.

Shams Joarder, who plans to work in Saudi Arabia, said the reform was a great relief as it would allow workers to search for new jobs on the expiry of their contracts while still residing in the Kingdom. “Now we can all change employer without any hassle,” he added.

This article was first published in Arab News

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