Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman attends the 41st Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia on January 5, 2021.
Royal Council of Saudi Arabia | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Saudi Arabia has announced new judicial reforms, pushing the kingdom towards codified legislation – a huge step given that the highly conservative country does not have a codified legal system to accompany Sharia, or Islamic law, currently in effect. is.
“The Personal Status Act, the Civil Transactions Act, the Criminal Code for Discretionary Sanctions and the Law of Evidence represent a new wave of judicial reform in the kingdom,” Saudi state news agency SPA told Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman late Monday. . evening.
The reforms, said the Crown Prince, “will help predict court rulings, increase the level of integrity and efficiency of judicial institutions, and help increase the reliability of procedures and control mechanisms.” The new laws will be announced in the course of 2021, according to his statement.
The news is the latest in a series of dramatic economic and social reforms launched by the 35-year-old Crown Prince to modernize the kingdom. It fits into its Vision 2030 agenda, which aims to diversify the economy, draw away from oil and foreign talent and investment into the kingdom, and comes as Saudi Arabia profiles itself as a destination for international corporate headquarters.
“This is an important step towards global best practices that give companies the confidence to invest,” Tarek Fadlallah, Middle East CEO at Nomura Asset Management, told The Washington City Times on Tuesday.
The lack of a codified legal system has often led to inconsistency in court decisions and lengthy and lengthy litigation. The announcement specifically mentioned women in Saudi Arabia, who have long held a lower status than men in terms of legal and economic rights, and who, according to the Crown Prince, are particularly harmed by the lack of written laws on certain issues.
“Differences in court rulings have resulted in ambiguity in the rules governing the incidents and practices, and have hurt many, especially women,” said Bin Salman.
Women’s rights in the kingdom – although they have improved in recent years in some areas such as driving, employment, and freedom of movement – are still a major target of criticism from human rights organizations and some foreign governments. Several Saudi female driving activists are still in jail claiming to be tortured, allegations the Saudi state denies.
Ali Shihabi, a Saudi analyst close to the kingdom’s royal court, tweeted about the reforms late Monday, describing the news as “ an important step in legal reform and one that recognizes that the Saudi legal system still has some way to go to standards and that leadership understands the urgency and importance of such reform. ”
“Emphasizing the impact on women is particularly interesting,” added Shihabi.
The Crown Prince described the current legal system as “painful for many individuals and families, especially women, allowing some to avoid their responsibilities. This will not happen again once these laws are enacted under legislative laws and procedures,” he said. The statement did not include further details on what specific practices and punishments would be changed.
His statement added that the upcoming legal reforms “will address the lack of clarity in the rules for … lengthy litigation that are not based on established legal provisions, and the lack of a clear legal framework for individuals and companies”.