If you happened to ask a foreign investor, a local merchant, a divorced woman, an inheritor going in pursuit of their estate, or anyone who is simply mindful of their rights, about the most pressing issue in present-day Saudi Arabia, the quick response would be: the state of the judiciary. This is a well-known subject that has been talked about on many occasions. Many have had their say, and offered what they believe to be the correct views or ideas that will contribute to the reform and development of the judicial system. If the defects and shortcomings of the issue are so well known, then they require accurate expertise, and an informed and deep understanding, from those in charge of this complex and difficult task.
Therefore, it was a pleasant surprise to be met promptly, without an appointment, by the Saudi Minister of Justice, Mohammed Al-Issa. The man has a confident and calm presence, and a heightened sense of kindness and manners. These alone are admirable qualities, and represent a shift in style and approach. But the most significant surprise was the depth of the man’s understanding, relating to the challenge facing his ministry, and his lack of denial or arrogance, simply because he is fully aware of the issue. Any judicial reform will have a vital role in development plans, and in the population’s sense of citizenship and belonging.
The man is very open, with practical knowledge stemming from worldwide judicial experiences, its ideas and its reforms. He is familiar with the judicial models of the Anglo-Saxons and the modern Americans. At the Arab world level, he has a remarkable and important knowledge of the experiences of Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan and Syria, and even modern third world countries, having conducted an in-depth study into Singapore.
He is totally convinced that the most important challenge today is not the number of judges present in the judicial system, or the fact that the number is not sufficient, as has been repeatedly asserted. Instead, he clarified the matter: The number today is appropriate in accordance with international norms and standards of comparison, but the problem lies in the mechanism and the organizational structure at present. Mr. Al-Issa is eager for modern technology to be an essential concept and integral part of development and judicial reform, hoping that that an electronic court and electronic judiciary will become a reality within the ministry. He believes that this is only a question of time, citing the success of the effective Singapore model, which curbed human interference, thus reducing corruption and attempts to influence verdicts issued.
Mohammed Al-Issa is aware that he faces a great challenge and a large task, and he also knows that human nature is resistant to change and therefore rejects it. The judiciary issue is a sensitive, thorny and complicated matter. However, he also realizes that there is a large gap in trust today between several sectors and the judiciary. There is also a disparity in performance between sectors within the judicial system itself. For example, the Board of Grievances is administered in a more flexible and effective manner than the Shariaa courts, and therefore the degree of satisfaction with the proceedings and findings differ between sectors, despite all verdicts being issued by the same legal authority.
The Minister of Justice is a young, confident man, well briefed and fully aware of the task before him. He is armed with knowledge, information, and the belief that if his mission were to succeed, it would be one of the most important achievements in the administrative history of Saudi Arabia. It would be easy to open the floodgates of criticism and accusations against all sectors of management. However, it is also important to value any glimpses of hope, and those sincere characters that have walked this difficult [judicial] minefield, in order to arm them with support, and build their self confidence. It is reassuring to know, with regards to Saudi Arabia’s judicial system today, that there is a respected figure at the helm, such as Mohammed Al-Issa. We are hopeful that God Almighty will grant him success in achieving his ambition, and the people’s ambition, by transforming the plans, vision and goals of the task, into a tangible reality that people can reap the benefits of. Then he will go down in history, to the door of mercy, and the peace and prayers of his people.