Judicial reform set to improve Saudi competitiveness

These reforms are part of the long process of structural reforms to the judicial system in Saudi Arabia

Flag of Saudi Arabia. Image used for illustrative purpose.

Flag of Saudi Arabia. Image used for illustrative purpose.

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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has announced the reform of four new laws to the Kingdom’s judicial institutions. The four laws are the Personal Status Law, the Civil Transactions Law, the Penal Code for Discretionary Sentences, and the Law of Evidence.

It is worth noting that such reforms are part of the long process of structural reforms to the judicial system in Saudi Arabia. The Justice Ministry has completed a number of projects in the past few months, including, but not limited to, the launch of e-services and the creation of notary positions for women. Other recent developments include the inauguration of labor courts and the documenting of judicial hearings in audio and video.

The recent announcement by the crown prince is believed to improve the legislative environment through the development and reform of regulations that preserve rights, entrench the principles of justice, improve transparency and enhance the Kingdom’s global competitiveness through clear and specific procedural and substantive institutional references.

The crown prince said: “Discrepancies in court rulings had led to a lack of clarity and resulted in prolonged litigation not based on legal texts.” In addition, the absence of a clear legal framework for private and public business sectors has led to ambiguity with respect to obligations, which has hurt many people, mostly women. Thus, as indicated by the crown prince, the new laws eliminate discrepancies and ensure consistency in court rulings, improve the reliability of oversight mechanisms and clarify accountability.

Saudi Justice Minister Dr. Walid bin Mohammed Al-Samaani, president of the Supreme Judicial Council, said that the new penal code would enhance the application of justice in criminal cases, since it is based on strong legal principles and modern legal practice. Crimes are to be classified into different categories according to their nature, magnitude and consequences, and the penalties applicable in each case.

It is worth noting that the reforms go hand in hand with Vision 2030, which aims to enhance the Kingdom’s institutional framework for courts by establishing an international forum that brings together judges from around the globe to exchange experiences, launch development initiatives and increase international cooperation.

In my opinion, the improvement of important judicial laws, particularly those that have to do with financial transactions and family-related disputes, will expedite proceedings and the settlement of disputes.

Additionally, such reforms are expected to attract foreign investment to the country (direct and indirect) since, as Prince Mohammed bin Salman indicated, the new laws adopt international judicial practices and standards in a manner that does not contradict Shariah principles.

I believe that such enhancement of the laws will not only improve the Kingdom’s global competitiveness when it comes to court rulings but will also improve the reputation of the Kingdom’s justice system, which has been criticized for a long period of time as being slow and arcane.

• Talat Zaki Hafiz is an economist, financial analyst and a board member of the Saudi Financial Association. Twitter: @TalatHafiz

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