Automatic legal services are allowing hundreds of women in Saudi Arabia to file, argue and win court proceedings that grant them a judge's approval to bypass their guardian's consent for marriage.
“This is a transformation in what was a previously gruelling and stressful task for women whose fathers or brothers had unjustly objected to a potential spouse,” Saudi lawyer Hazim Al Madani told The National.
"The court's new e-filing system allows women to make their case and get a ruling in a matter of months and sometimes a few days."
Although the Ministry of Justice does not publish exact figures on the number of cases involving bypassing guardian consent for a woman to marry, Mr Al Madani estimates hundreds of cases were filed electronically in the past year.
“Cases like these caused a great deal of psychological pressure on the women involved along the way because in the old system, it was up to them to inform a brother, father or legal guardian of the legal action being taken against them.”
With new automation measures that notify defendants of summons or rulings, women no longer have to deliver the news, he said.
Saudi paper Okaz reported that nine cases were filed in courts across Jeddah, Makkah, Al Taif and Al Laith in the past 60 days.
Of those, three cases were settled and six were referred to court, taking an average of one or two sessions before a ruling was issued.
The coronavirus pandemic has also prompted hearings to be conducted virtually, allowing defendants and plaintiffs to make their legal arguments from home, without the need to be physically present at court.
Mr Al Madani says that while guardianship approval is a prerequisite for women's marriage in Islam, some guardians abuse the powers granted to them by the law.
“I had a 40-year-old Saudi client who wanted to get married to a non-Saudi dentist," he said. "Her family did not consent to that marriage simply because of the suitor’s nationality. The religious text in this matter is clear in that the requirements for a good suitor should be based on religiosity and morals, no more.”
In 2018, Saudi Arabia granted women the ability to work without getting permission from a legal guardian. This has given them the freedom to keep personal issues protected from scrutiny and abuse.
“Some fathers, brothers and even husbands demanded a portion or all the wages earned by the working women in their households and used that to maintain leverage over the women in their lives,” Mr Al Madani said.
“Now that women are free to take decisions of employment into their own hands, they do not feel as obligated to divulge how much they earn or other details about their lives which could be held against them.”
Under previous guardianship restrictions, a woman could find herself redundant because her guardian no longer approved of her employment.
“Imagine a surgeon or a professor being told she can no longer perform her duties because her father or brother informed the company that he does not want her working there anymore,” Mr Al Madani said.
Increasingly, cases where a guardianship is stripped or bypassed for the unlawful obstruction of marriage have been making headlines in Saudi press.
Mr Al Madani said the select number of court proceedings published by the ministry on its website encourage women in similar situations to tackle their own issues through the legal system.