Legal Matters

Abdullah Al-Alsheikh, the Minister of Justice, has recently given a lengthy interview (Arabic) to Asharq Al-Awsat where he made some interesting comments about the performance of the ministry and other related issues. MOJ has become under increased scrutiny following bizarre judgments in some high profile cases such as the Qatif Girl case.

I was disappointed to read that a committee from MOJ is working on the US$ 1.86bn plan the King ordered to overhaul the judicial system in the country. How can the very same people who created, or inherited, the current system, and didn’t see anything wrong with it until the King spoke, be responsible to implement the kind of radical changes proposed in the plan when they seemed for a very long time rather comfortable with the status quo?

I think it would have been better to bring people from outside the establishment to fix it as I don’t expect much from those who didn’t produce much in the first place. Actually, using the word “system” to describe the present situation of the legal process is some sort of a compliment. “Chaos” is the word I would use to describe what citizens have to endure in the courts.

We suffer from a sever shortage in the number of judges: the idea of having only 600 judges to serve the needs of 25m population is simply incomprehensible. According to legal experts, this shortage is the result of the current method of choosing judges which is based on regional, tribal and religious considerations, instead of qualifications and experience. The direct effect of this situation is that most cases takes years and years to be resolved, violating the basic human right of access to a fair speedy trial.

Another urgent matter that MOJ must take care of is the obvious need to a clear set of codified laws. Currently, people are at the whims of judges who can in the absence of any specific reference pass completely different judgments on very similar cases. Say someone stole a car; he could be lucky to catch a pleasant judge who happens to be in a good mood that day and sentence him to three weeks of community service, or he could be unlucky to catch a cranky judge on a bad day and sentence him to 150 lashes plus 2 months in jail.

The minister said they are still studying codifying the Sharia, and they will continue doing that over the next few months. I am afraid that after they take forever to finish this study they may conclude that they don’t need to codify anything. Unlikely, but possible considering the recent history of this ministry.


9 thoughts on “Legal Matters

  1. The laws are not the problem. In Singaphore you get lashes for chewing gum in the street.

    It’s the consistancy as well as making the laws clear that is the problem.

    Every country has unpopular laws, but they are clear so they must be followed (like the J-walking law in the US). And if you don’t like the laws in the US, then you move.

  2. HEY JACKASS, why unchu never talk about the girl that died while drivin her ass so fast in a crowded area… u juss keep bugging our asses asking for some human rights, well guess what… it wont work, says reality [learnt from the girl’s accident]

  3. To me the problem is not just the need for the laws to be clear and codified, I don’t want a law that discriminates against women and minorities weather it’s codified or not.

    Codifying some of the unjust laws of our country will only make it harder to reform or abolish them [as some laws MUST be abolished]

    Last famous words
    “an unjust law is no law at all”
    St. Augustine

  4. Thanks for the update, Ahmed. Indeed, it is disappointing, if not depressing, to see that the same people responsible for the dysfunctional judicial state we’re in are expected to be able and willing to fix it. In other news, the Shura council still thinks it is relevant (as if it ever was…)

  5. :) .. yea .. They were just waiting for the King to start fixing their corruption which they have been practiced for quite long time :) ..

    I don’t expect much .. it’s all with anything else here .. corrupted people claiming that they are fixing the corruption.

  6. the problem is… if u have an engineering problem you get a good and reputable engineering firm to look at your system, if u have an accounting problem you get an accounting firm to look at your accounts… now, if u have a problem in an area where u think that you are the best… who do you get?

  7. Salaam… Consistency is definitely what is required in Saudi. As you say there can be such a huge difference in given sentences and of course there is the ‘wasta’ thing thrown into the pot too. :/

  8. Hey Ahmed, since you commented on my blog I figured I’d return the favor! As usual you write fantastically relevant posts about subjects that are…. let’s say “underrepresented” in dialogue here. I definitely agree that Saudi is lacking a clear codified system of laws (and constitution, and ….well, the list goes on). But do you really think codifying the Sharia is the answer? If you codify what people currently think of as Sharia (and who gets to decide, anyway?) you’re just going to end up with a set of really strict really archaic rules. And besides, one of the things that kept Sharia so useful across the centuries was its adaptability and the fact that judges could (and should) take circumstances into account when making their decision. Unlike Roman law, which was all dependent on the law as it was written, Sharia is supposed to be based on a sensitive and context-reliant reading of the case and of the religious texts. If you codify that, don’t you lose pretty much the only good thing about the system?

    Not that it’s working the way they’ve got it. I’m just sayin’….

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