As part of the exciting developments Saudi Arabia’s flourishing reform journey is currently undergoing, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has recently unveiled a new wave of promising legislative reforms in areas related to personal status laws, civil transactions, commercial and family affairs, as well as civil rights and the penal code.
It appears that Saudi Arabia is set on its course, moving forward on the right track towards modernization and development while ensuring that the needs of the people are being met in a timely manner. The latest reforms are aimed at improving the validity and effectiveness of the legislative system. A fair and consistent legal system ensures that justice is always served in a firm and unyielding manner.
As we know, instating justice through fair laws, a sound judiciary system, public prosecution, and unflawed defense systems are the cornerstones of a happy, decent life. Reforms in this field require boldness, courage, intelligence, and wisdom. The soundness of the legal ecosystem within a country is a key driver for positive change, not to mention that it strengthens the citizens sense of belonging, and, above all, it is one of the main duties of a good leader.
Throughout the history of Saudi Arabia, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the development of the Saudi legislative system, especially regarding the “codification” of Sharia and the development of a “code of judicial conduct.” In the 1970s, during the rule of King Faisal, there was an interesting debate about the concept of codification. About 20 years ago, I worked on an in-depth press report for the London Magazine on this issue, in which I met the late lawyer Abdul Rahman al-Qasim, who was one of the first advocates of codification in Saudi Arabia.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to undertake legislative reform mark a bold turning point for a new Saudi Arabia.
At the heart of the reforms are four new major laws benefitting women and families, as well as improving the personal status law. The crown prince said that the absent of such laws had led to discrepancies in court rulings, which had hurt many people, mostly women. The crown prince described the current legal system as “painful for many individuals and families, especially women, permitting some to evade their responsibilities. This will not take place again once these laws are promulgated pursuant to legislative laws and procedures,” he added.
The Saudi crown prince revealed that, years ago, he had prepared what was known as the “draft judicial rulings code,” but it became clear that it was not fulfilling the requirements. This was taken into consideration during the preparation of the new draft laws.
Among the main features of these new laws are the focus on clarity, outlining the lines of accountability, and ensuring the consistency of legal references in a way that limits widespread discrepancies in court rulings. This narrows the heavy and unfortunate reliance on jurisprudence which is the root of these inconsistencies.
Saudi Justice Minister Dr. Walid al-Samaani informed Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that the new draft Personal Status Law protects the rights of both spouses and children. It also includes provisions for betrothal, marriage, custody, and alimony, as well as provisions related to guardianship, will, and inheritance, in addition to prioritizing the best interests of children to ensure that they never become victims of parental disputes.
As for the draft Law of Evidence, as the Saudi minister explained, it determines the rules of evidence adopted in relation to civil and commercial rights, such as witness testimonies, written evidence, digital evidence, and other means of evidence.
The question we must ask ourselves now, what are the advantages of introducing new standards to the law of evidence? The answer will soon be revealed once we see all the remarkable changes that will reflect positively on individual and business interactions.
As for the draft Penal Code for Discretionary Sanctions, it aims to enhance the application of justice in criminal cases by ensuring that no ruling is subjective and all criminal sanctions are ruled based on a definitive legal text. In other words, this law will narrow the margin of inconsistency and limit exaggerated and ambiguous sanctions.
There is no denying that this is another great leap forward for Saudi Arabia’s extraordinary reform journey. These sweeping internal reforms will soon be reflected on a much bigger scale, showcasing an impressive vision for the entire world to behold. The latest legislative reforms reflect the level of awareness by the Saudi leadership that true power cannot last without ensuring real justice. They go hand in hand – you cannot have one without the other, Justice without power is inefficient; power without justice is tyranny.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al- Awsat.