Saudi Arabia announces legal reforms that pave the way for codified law

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The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, will attend 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 that will put the kingdom on the path to codified law – a big step when you consider that the deeply conservative country does not have a codified legal system that accompanies Sharia law or current Islamic law.

“The law on personal status, the law on civil transactions, the criminal code for discretionary sanctions and the law of evidence represent a new wave of judicial reforms in the kingdom,” the Saudi news agency SPA quoted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as saying late on Monday evening.

The reforms, said the Crown Prince, “will help predict court decisions, increase the level of integrity and efficiency of judicial institutions, and improve the reliability of procedures and control mechanisms.” According to him, the new laws will be announced in the course of 2021.

The news is the latest in a string of dramatic economic and social reforms the 35-year-old Crown Prince has launched to modernize the kingdom. It fits into his Vision 2030 agenda, which aims to diversify the economy away from oil and attract foreign talent and investment to the kingdom, and comes as Saudi Arabia positions itself as a destination for international business headquarters.

“This is an important step towards global best practices that give companies the confidence to invest,” Tarek Fadlallah, CEO for the Middle East, Nomura Asset Management, told CNBC on Tuesday.

The lack of a codified legal system often led to inconsistencies in court judgments and lengthy litigation. The announcement made explicit reference to women in Saudi Arabia who have long had a lower status than men in terms of legal and economic rights and whom the Crown Prince described as particularly harmed because no written laws were passed on certain issues.

“Disagreements in court decisions have resulted in a lack of clarity in the rules of the incidents and practices, and injured many, mostly women,” the SPA quoted bin Salman as saying.

While women’s rights in the Kingdom have improved in some areas such as driving, employment and free movement in recent years, they remain a major criticism from human rights groups and some foreign governments. Several Saudi female driving activists remain in jail claiming they are being tortured, which the Saudi state denies.

Ali Shihabi, a Saudi analyst near the kingdom’s royal court, tweeted the reforms late Monday, describing the news as “an important step in legal reform and one that recognizes that the Saudi legal system has a way to make international To achieve standards and. ” that the leadership recognizes the urgency and importance of such reform. ”

“It’s especially interesting to highlight the impact on women,” added Shihabi.

The Crown Prince described the current legal system as “painful for many individuals and families, especially women, who allow some to shirk their responsibilities. This will not happen again once these laws are enacted according to legal laws and procedures,” said he. The statement did not provide any further details as to which specific practices and penalties would be changed.

His statement added that the forthcoming legal reforms will “remove the ambiguity of the rules for … prolonged litigation not based on established legal provisions and the lack of a clear legal framework for individuals and businesses”.