Welcome measures to reform the Saudi judiciary

Ensuring a more efficient judiciary is a welcome development that could uphold the rule of law and ensure justice for all

Samar Fatany
Samar Fatany
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King Abdullah recently approved new measures for the Shariah defense law, the criminal procedure law and the procedures of the Board of Grievances in an effort to expedite court proceedings and provide better legal services.

Reforming the judiciary continues to be one of the major challenges facing the kingdom today. The newly approved measures will boost technical aspects and introduce advanced information centers which could finally facilitate an effective functioning of courts. The new measures will also include electronic monitoring of the judicial system and the documentation of procedures. In addition they will activate the concept of open court sessions and enable the public to watch and monitor the judicial process.

This new development could certainly expedite the delivery of rulings in cases that have been delayed for many years. The slow implementation of judicial reforms has made it difficult to put an end to corruption and human rights violations that jeopardize the due process of law.

Earlier the Ministry of justice increased the number of judges and notaries and provided training courses to develop the performance of Shariah experts and judges in an effort to strengthen the values of transparency and fairness. Saudi lawyers have complained of vindictive judges who issue rulings to penalize them and undermine their efforts to defend their clients. In some cases they have even been threatened with imprisonment over minor disagreements. The specialized courts that have been established to avoid conflict over jurisprudence need experts who are more familiar with contemporary legal issues in labor and commercial disputes as well as civil and criminal cases.

Saudi judges need to be more involved in studies that are conducted on developments in international law and on comparing them with Shariah law with due consideration to social, psychological, security and economic global factors.

Meanwhile, the issue of codifying Shariah law is still pending. Unfortunately, Saudi judges continue to resist the move. Various jurisprudence academics who have been studying the matter for several decades and the more moderate Shariah scholars at the Department of Comparative Jurisprudence at the Higher Institute of Judiciary as well as the Council of Senior Religious Scholars assert that codifying and documenting verdicts issued by the Shariah courts in the Kingdom would help judges avoid making inconsistent judgments on similar cases, and it would also allow people to know their legal rights and what to expect in advance in any dispute on the basis of precedent. Codifying laws would make the legal system easier for the public to understand. Another important recommendation of legal consultants is the need to address the social injustice of severe rulings and the implementation of specific regulations against hardline practices. These consultants recommend alternative sentences including community service, such as cleaning mosques, planting trees and helping at care homes for the elderly to reform and rehabilitate juvenile delinquents. It is time we employ more effective and less harsh methods to serve justice and learn from the experience of more advanced societies in dealing with petty crimes and misguided youth.

Saudi judges need to be more involved in studies that are conducted on developments in international law

Samar Fatany

Another important development is allowing women lawyers to practice their profession. The Ministry of Justice has so far granted 10 women lawyers their official licenses. They now have the opportunity to defend women’s rights.

(However, unfortunately, it should be noted that al-Watan Arabic language daily reported on Thursday that “many female attorneys disclosed that they were forced to come with their ‘mahrams’ (male guardians) to the court for identification.”

The Ministry has also promised to appoint women as legal experts in the courts of grievances across several provinces. Positions include researchers in judiciary, researchers in Shariah, legal researchers and administrative assistants. There are also plans to employ women law graduates in the Investigations Department.

Women lawyers could serve many abused women who suffer as a result of long legal proceedings. Female legal representatives could expedite proceedings and can offer valuable counseling and assistance to women waiting to appear in court. More than 70 percent of those who come to courts are women. Allowing women lawyers to assist them is a positive development that can help many women who are in desperate need of a woman attorney in whom they can confide and with whom they can be more at ease when discussing their personal affairs.

The new measures that have been introduced in Saudi courts will need more efficient implementation. Hopefully our courts can now settle disputes and address grievances with more professional methods of just treatment and mediation. Ensuring a more efficient judiciary is a welcome development that could uphold the rule of law and ensure justice for all.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Dec. 1, 2013.

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Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books: “Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,” “Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.”

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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