Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announces 'wave of reform' for Saudi Arabia’s judicial system

Four new laws will speed up litigation and give greater clarity and predictability to court decisions

epa08920458 A handout photograph made available by the Saudi Royal Court shows Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attending the 41st GCC ( Gulf Cooperation Council)  Summit at AlUla, some 1040 km East of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 05 January 2021.  According to official Saudi sources, the 41st GCC Summit organized by Saudi Arabia on 05 January, will aim at unifying the path of Gulf countries.  Saudi Arabia agreed on the reopening of its border with Qatar on 04 January evening. Qatar had been imposed with a diplomatic and travel boycott by Saudi Arabia and allies since 2017.  EPA/BANDAR ALAJALOUD/SAUDI ROYAL COURT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
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Saudi Arabia is issuing four new laws as part of judicial reforms in the kingdom, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has announced.

The "new wave of reforms" will speed up the litigation process and help court rulings to become more predictable, as well as giving greater clarity to decisions, he said.

The new laws will also help to clarify lines of accountability and ensure the consistency of legal references in a way that limits widespread discrepancies in court rulings, the Saudi Press Agency reported Prince Mohammed saying on Monday.

The discrepancies have led to a lack of clarity, he said.

The absence of a clear legal framework for domestic and business issues has also led to ambiguity with respect to obligations, which has been "painful for many individuals and families, especially women, permitting some to evade their responsibilities", Prince Mohammed said.

"This will not take place again once these laws are promulgated pursuant to legislative laws and procedures.”

The new laws – the Personal Status Law, the Civil Transactions Law, the Penal Code for Discretionary Sentences and the Law of Evidence – have been drafted so they do not contradict Sharia principles, while taking into consideration the kingdom’s commitments under international conventions and treaties, he said.

Once finalised, the draft laws will be submitted to the Council of Ministers for review, in preparation for submission to the Shura Council.

Prince Mohammed said that in the past few years, Saudi Arabia has taken serious steps towards developing its legislative environment.

He said that judicial reforms were a continuous process, and that the four new laws would be announced consecutively this year.

Last month, Saudi Arabia passed legislation that would allow orphans and illegitimate children whose parents are unknown to be allowed citizenship, according to the country's Human Rights Commission, who noted that this would apply to around 500 children per year.

Women's rights

Another wave of legal reforms last year authorised by the Supreme Judicial Council allowed women to register for marriage or divorce, obtain their child’s birth certificate and be the legal guardian of their children after divorce.

Women are now also allowed greater rights in the drafting of marriage contracts, and for women whose father has died, male legal guardians now have less right to object to potential marriage suitors.

Farah Abadi, a paralegal in Riyadh said the new wave of reforms are testament to Saudi's commitment to human rights.

“These laws, as mentioned by the Crown Prince will help individuals especially women, who for the longest time have suffered due to the hidden discrepancies in the system and are blind-sided by them.

"Men recognize the loopholes in our judiciary system and some even take advantage of it. I am looking forward to the new laws that will help strengthen women’s rights in courts and speed up verdicts in all cases. We have had a series of empowering rights for women since Saudi Vision was announced, and I hope it continues,” she added.

How do Saudis feel about the new reforms?

The new reforms will revolutionise the judicial system and human rights in the Kingdom, Saad Al Mohsen, a corporate lawyer based in Jeddah, told The National.

“This will change the entire judicial system- we are hearing of more affirmative and clear rulings and practices. Transparent and up to date laws are pertinent to every society and are the basis of its long-term success.

"When it comes to our profession, there is an abundance of knowledge that you need to learn and then constantly update with the changing world, so it is an ongoing process, like the Crown Prince said, and we can never ignore it.

Mr Al Mohsen said the reforms set Saudi Arabia "on the path to progress" as a society.

"These positive reforms will help individuals in society to clear their cases in an efficient and timely manner,” he added.