SUSRIS periodically shares perspectives from columnists in Saudi Arabia and around the Gulf. For your consideration we are pleased to provide a recent column by Samar Fatany who contributes regularly to Saudi Gazette. Fatany recently published “Modernizing Saudi Arabia,” a comprehensive and insightful review and chronicle of reforms accomplished in recent years and the challenges ahead to modernize the Kingdom. This week SUSRIS will bring you an exclusive interview with her about the new book and excerpts for your review. [You can learn more and order the book at this link.]
Welcome Measures to Reform Saudi Judiciary
King Abdullah has recently approved new measures for the Shariah defense law, the criminal procedure law and the procedures of the Board of Grievances in an effort to expedite court proceedings and provide better legal services.
Reforming the judiciary continues to be one of the major challenges facing the Kingdom today. The newly approved measures will boost technical aspects and introduce advanced information centers which could finally facilitate an effective functioning of courts. The new measures will also include electronic monitoring of the judicial system and the documentation of procedures. In addition they will activate the concept of open court sessions and enable the public to watch and monitor the judicial process.
This new development could certainly expedite the delivery of rulings in cases that have been delayed for many years. The slow implementation of judicial reforms has made it difficult to put an end to corruption and human rights violations that jeopardize the due process of law.
Earlier the Ministry of Justice increased the number of judges and notaries and provided training courses to develop the performance of Shariah experts and judges in an effort to strengthen the values of transparency and fairness. Saudi lawyers have complained of vindictive judges who issue rulings to penalize them and undermine their efforts to defend their clients. In some cases they have even been threatened with imprisonment over minor disagreements. The specialized courts that have been established to avoid conflict over jurisprudence need experts who are more familiar with contemporary legal issues in labor and commercial disputes as well as civil and criminal cases.
Saudi judges need to be more involved in studies that are conducted on developments in international law and on comparing them with Shariah law with due consideration to social, psychological, security and economic global factors.
Meanwhile, the issue of codifying Shariah law is still pending. Unfortunately, Saudi judges continue to resist the move. Various jurisprudence academics who have been studying the matter for several decades and the more moderate Shariah scholars at the Department of Comparative Jurisprudence at the Higher Institute of Judiciary as well as the Council of Senior Religious Scholars assert that codifying and documenting verdicts issued by the Shariah courts in the Kingdom would help judges avoid making inconsistent judgments on similar cases, and it would also allow people to know their legal rights and what to expect in advance in any dispute on the basis of precedent. Codifying laws would make the legal system easier for the public to understand. Legal consultants continue to recommend the need to address the social injustice of severe rulings and the implementation of specific regulations against hardline practices. These consultants recommend alternative sentences including community service, such as cleaning mosques, planting trees and helping at care homes for the elderly to reform and rehabilitate juvenile delinquents. It is time we employ more effective and less harsh methods to serve justice and learn from the experience of more advanced societies in dealing with petty crimes and misguided youth.
Another important development is allowing women lawyers to practice their profession. The Ministry of Justice has so far granted 10 women lawyers their official licenses. They now have the opportunity to defend women’s rights.
(However, unfortunately, it should be noted that Al-Watan Arabic language daily reported on Thursday [Nov 28] that “many female attorneys disclosed that they were forced to come with their ‘mahrams’ (male guardians) to the court for identification.”)
The Ministry has also promised to appoint women as legal experts in the courts of grievances across several provinces. Positions include researchers in judiciary, researchers in Shariah, legal researchers and administrative assistants. There are also plans to employ women law graduates in the Investigations Department.
Women lawyers could serve many abused women who suffer as a result of long legal proceedings. Female legal representatives could expedite proceedings and can offer valuable counseling and assistance to women waiting to appear in court. More than 70 percent of those who come to courts are women. Allowing women lawyers to assist them is a positive development that can help many women who are in desperate need of a woman attorney in whom they can confide and with whom they can be more at ease when discussing their personal affairs.
The new measures that have been introduced in Saudi courts will need more efficient implementation. Hopefully our courts can now settle disputes and address grievances with more professional methods of just treatment and mediation. Ensuring a more efficient judiciary is a welcome development that could uphold the rule of law and ensure justice for all.
Published in the Saudi Gazette on November 30, 2013 and reprinted with permission of the author.
About Samar Fatany
SAMAR H. FATANY Former Head of the English Service and Chief Broadcaster at Jeddah Radio Station, which is affiliated to the Ministry of Culture and Information, Saudi Arabia. She has introduced many cultural, religious and current events programs over a period of 30 years. Samar Fatany has conducted many interviews with prominent local and international political personalities. She has participated in the media coverage of many regional and global economic conferences. She has made significant contributions in social awareness campaigns and participated in global interfaith dialogue events. In her previous books, Saudi Perceptions and Western Misconceptions, Saudi Women Towards a New Era, and Saudi Reforms and Challenges, Fatany has addressed the threat of extremism, and highlighted the new era of empowered women in her society. She has also covered the many challenges facing Saudi Arabia and projected the ongoing reform movement in the desert Kingdom. Fatany is an active member of several local organizations, including the Committee for International Trade, CIT, Riyadh, and the Committee for International Relations, IRC, and the Committee for Youth Forums of the Ministry Of Foreign Affairs promoting youth diplomacy and supporting youth initiatives in Saudi Arabia today. She is currently a writer and columnist for the Saudi Gazette.
This book portrays ambitious government initiatives to implement reforms and describes progressive attempts to help Saudi Arabia meet the challenges of the 21st century. It gives an overall picture of the present situation and the progress achieved so far.
It also highlights the role of women and youth as the engines for change. The book identifies women professionals in leadership roles and projects the participation of the Kingdom’s youth in nation building.
The chapters outline the struggle of decision makers to deal with new realities and emphasize the process of modernizing the vast and both physically and culturally diverse region of this country.
Source: Introduction, “Modernizing Saudi Arabia”
More from Samar Fatany
Men must take a stand to stop violence against women
Sunday, 24 November 2013
Let Saudi women drive towards a better future
Saturday, 16 November 2013
Interfaith initiatives to transform religious conflicts
Sunday, 13 October 2013
American-Saudi education ties should only get stronger
Sunday, 6 October 2013
Unrest erodes the fabric of Egyptian society
Sunday, 4 August 2013
Interfaith dialogue, a key to ending extremism
Sunday, 28 July 2013
Ramadan, a time to right the wrongs
Saturday, 20 July 2013
Take a stand against the exploitation of Islam
Saturday, 13 July 2013
Arab youth know their political rights
Saturday, 6 July 2013
The Saudi weekend: Why the religious debate?
Saturday, 29 June 2013
Who will protect Saudi cultural heritage?
Saturday, 22 June 2013