Saudi Arabia announces judicial reforms

·2-min read

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has announced plans to approve laws to enhance the efficiency and integrity of the kingdom's judicial system in a step towards an entirely codified law.

The prince, often referred to by his initials MBS, has launched a series of social and economic reforms aimed at modernising the conservative kingdom, which has no codified system of law to go with texts making up sharia, or Islamic law.

State news agency (SPA) quoted the prince on Monday as saying four new laws - the personal status law, the civil transactions law, the penal code of discretionary sanctions and the law of evidence - were being finalised.

They would then be submitted to cabinet and relevant bodies as well as the advisory Shura Council before being finally approved.

"The new laws represent a new wave of reforms that will ... increase the reliability of procedures and oversight mechanisms as cornerstones in achieving the principles of justice, clarifying the lines of accountability," Prince Mohammed said in the statement.

A Saudi official said setting clear codes to four major and fundamental laws through applying best international practices and standards means the kingdom is "definitely moving towards codifying the entire law" to meet the needs of the modern world while adhering to Islamic Sharia principles.

"While there is a decent and independent judiciary, the main criticism is that it is not consistent and judges have significant discretion on many of these issues, which leads to inconsistency and unpredictability," the Saudi official said.

Having no written laws governing certain incidents had for decades resulted in discrepancy in rulings and prolonged litigation, hurting many Saudis, mostly women.

Riyadh has, for example, long endured international censure over the guardianship system that assigns each women a male relative - a father, brother, husband or son - whose approval was needed for various big decisions throughout a woman's life.

The law was reformed in August 2019.

"This was 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," MbS said.