Middle East

Saudi Arabia announces new judicial reforms in a move towards codified law

LONDON (Reuters – Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced on Monday plans to approve a set of new draft laws designed to enhance the efficiency and integrity of the kingdom’s judicial system, a step that would eventually lead to an entirely codified law.

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

The state news agency (SPA) quoted the prince on Monday as saying that four new laws – the personal status law, the civil transactions law, the penal code of discretionary sanctions and the law of evidence – are currently being finalized and will then be submitted to the cabinet and relevant bodies as well as the advisory Shura Council, before they are 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 told Reuters On Monday that setting clear codes to four major and fundamental laws through applying the 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 that govern certain incidents had for decades resulted in discrepancy in court 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.

Prince Mohammed said in the statement that the new laws will be announced consecutively during 2021.

Reporting by Marwa Rashad; Editing by Paul Simao and Marguerita Choy

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman announces a zero-carbon city called “The Line” to be built at NEOM in northwestern Saudi Arabia, January 10, 2021. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS

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