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The War Within Islam ( 2 March 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Saudi Arabia Needs a Forward Thinking Judiciary



By Samar Fatany

2 March 2014

The cornerstone of Islam is justice and to dispense justice you have to have a legal system that is not corrupt or bureaucratic. News of a new initiative to upgrade the efficiency and performance of judges and other officials in Saudi Arabia have been well received by Saudi citizens and the international community.

Establishing training centers for Saudi judges is a bold step that defies the long resistance from hard-line religious scholars who have stood against any attempt to accelerate judicial reforms in the kingdom. They have supported the legal system that is in place, claiming that it is based on Shariah laws and cannot be changed to address our modern needs.

Legal analysts have always maintained the need for changes to the legal system in order to address the needs of the growing young population and to achieve meaningful social and economic reforms.

Hard-line judges presided over everything from economic, criminal to political cases using Islamic jurisprudence. They are graduates of traditional Shariah institutions that taught rigid interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence and applied them inconsistently in court as they see fit. There are many cases of decisions made according to the rule of a single judge with limited qualifications.

The judicial changes are welcome to address the ambiguities in the teachings of religious scholars, and are needed to influence a stronger collective stand toward a moderate Islamic rule.

Training Center for Judges

The approval by the Council of Ministers to establish a new training center for judges announced on February 25 is a positive initiative to improve the efficiency and performance of judges, notaries, clerks and other assistants of judges in the public and administrative courts.

Judicial reforms that recognize international laws is a fundamental requirement for the sustainable economic development in Saudi Arabia. Legal analysts say the legal system needed greater transparency, predictability and due process to attract foreign investment.

At present there are many commercial and industrial disputes that have been going on for years. The court system did not have the efficiency to resolve them. Legal experts welcome an increased proficiency in the rules of arbitration and believe in its positive impact on investment in Saudi Arabia. The changes would be significant to the arbitration system and would allow parties to resort to international rules which may not be stipulated in the Saudi system.

Legal Challenges

Saudi business investors who are also weary of other legal challenges facing the business community hope for the elimination of rules and regulations that are detrimental to the success of their businesses and are incompatible with the needs of today’s business world. The Saudi business community is waiting anxiously for the elimination of the legal guardianship that rule imposed on women and the discriminatory practices in the work place.

Unfortunately the hard-line legislators exercised their control over the business community and society as a whole. Businesses suffered and were delayed or aborted because of legal restrictions, foremost among them are permit regulations. Local investors are hoping for new legal procedures and an ease on the restrictions imposed by rigid rules and regulations. Legal restrictions and tedious regulations stood in the way of business opportunities. The hard-liners who continued to exercise legal control over our economic liberties are a threat to our economic prosperity.

The rigid judiciary and its policy of authoritarian constraint did not permit the implementation of flexible laws that are necessary for change. Rather, it allowed the influence of negative and unprogressive attitudes to exist among large segments of society.

The training of judges will hopefully produce legal experts with specialized qualifications to address complex jurisprudence. A judge’s knowledge and expertise is the foundation of fair and just rulings. More competent and efficient judges can expedite the delayed court procedures that are prolonging the misery of many innocent victims. Justice delayed is justice denied.

An efficient and strong judiciary is a fundamental requirement for the protection of human rights and for sustainable social progress and development. Let us hope that our new well-trained judges will contribute toward the development of a uniform justice system in Saudi Arabia and remove the culturally biased attitudes that are resistant to progressive thinking. The well trained judges will have a critical responsibility to serve the needs of the 21st century Saudi citizen.

Muslims today can no longer live in the past and remain isolated from the rest of the world. We live in a global village that is very competitive and inter-connected. The judiciary must be more familiar with international laws and should recognize that the existing rigid interpretations of Shariah laws need to be revised to better serve the needs of Saudi society.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on March 2, 2014.

Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books: “Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,” “Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.”