Saudi Female lawyers will be allowed finally to obtain practice licenses after the approval of the Saudi Ministry of Justice, a Saudi newspaper reported on Monday.
The approval followed a series of discussions and consultations with experts and relevant bodies, both legal and religious, the Saudi al-Riyadh daily quoted an official source as saying.
According to the source, ministry representatives first suggested restricting the work of female lawyers to personal status cases, while other experts agreed that women should have the right to handle different types of legal cases without restrictions, especially that no religious reasons hinder that.
Women will have to meet the same conditions as men to practice law and this means they have to be graduates of the faculties of law or Islamic law or similar institutions. Experience is also a requirement.
Women who graduated from law schools were allowed to work as legal consultants in companies or banks, but could not officially represent clients in court. They were, however, permitted to act as “representatives” but were still not considered lawyers. By not holding a law license, women could not also open law firms in their names.
The issue of “representation,” argued several judges, is problematic since women are actually practicing law but do not have the license that makes them part of the legal system and therefore held accountable in case of violations. In fact, several courts had filed complaints at the Ministry of Justice about professional mistakes committed by representatives.
The source added that the Ministry of Justice is currently taking the necessary procedures that would allow women to officially start practicing law. This includes preparing a database of licensed female lawyers and installing a fingerprint system in all courts so that their identity can be verified without having to expose their faces. The ministry had said earlier that no women can be obliged to show her face in court.
The ministry is currently receiving license requests which will be presented to a committee for review to make sure applicants meet the requirements.
According to the ministry statistics, the number of licensed practicing lawyers is 2,115, distributed amongst the provinces of the kingdom. The number, the ministry added, has been lately increasing and will increase more with the addition of females.
Calls for granting female law graduates practice licenses intensified last year with the campaign called “I am a female lawyer,” launched on the social networking websites.
Organizers of the campaign objected to spending years studying law, sometimes in top-notch universities abroad, then not be allowed to practice law in their home country.
Many of them also argued that in a conservative society like Saudi, women do not feel comfortable hiring male lawyers especially in personal status lawsuits that might involve private details.