RIYADH (AFP) — Saudi Arabia will get a supreme court and specialised tribunals dealing with personal status, commercial law and labour,
official media said Tuesday.
King Abdullah issued a decree approving a new body of laws regulating the judiciary and the Board of Grievances, which adjudicates disputes involving state institutions, SPA news agency reported.
The new laws replace regulations in force for more than 30 years in the case of the judiciary and about 25 years for the Board of Grievances.
Saudi Arabia, which rules on the basis of sharia, or Islamic law, is “taking a major qualitative step in developing its judicial and legal system” as it opens up its economy to the outside world, Mufleh al-Kahtani, dean of the civil law faculty at King Saud University in Riyadh, told AFP.
Abdullah allocated seven billion riyals (1.875 billion dollars) to introduce the changes, which aim to match the “development and modernisation” underway in Saudi Arabia, a royal court statement said.
The new rules, which emphasise the independence of judges, set up a supreme court whose main functions will be to oversee the implementation sharia and the laws issued by the king.
The supreme court will review rulings issued or upheld by appeal courts pertaining to murder, which is punishable by execution, and other serious offences.
Kahtani said it will take over the functions of the higher judicial council, hitherto the kingdom’s highest tribunal.
The council will continue to oversee the judiciary, focusing on administrative matters such as the choice of judges and the setting up of tribunals.
Under the new regulations, disputes related to divorce and other personal matters will be settled by personal status courts.
Commercial courts will look into disputes hitherto handled by special committees at the trade ministry, while labour courts will take over the functions of labour offices affiliated to the labour ministry.
The Board of Grievances will continue to handle administrative disputes involving government departments, but criminal offences involving these departments, like bribery, will go to other courts.
The overhaul of the judiciary was necessitated by changes in the world and “the need to open up to others, but also, and more importantly, by the social and economic needs of Saudi society,” Kahtani said.
He said the judiciary has been suffering from a shortage of judges and court officials, resulting in delays in the settlement of suits.
Kahtani, who is vice president of the National Society for Human Rights said the group “welcomes” the new laws, which will “develop the judicial and legal system in the kingdom.”