What is the Legal system of Saudi Arabia?

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on core Islamic principles and Sharia. It has set its laws in accordance with Quran and Sunnah. Outside the territory of Quran and Sunnah, the consensus of Islamic scholars over whom people have trusted after Muhammad PBUH left this world and seemed reliable to give their verdicts related to matters not addressed in major sources of Islamic laws. The Islamic principles have to be modified to present an official jurisprudence. The major school of thought implemented in the Saudi Kingdom is a Hanbali school of thought of Islamic jurisprudence. Sharia addresses various laws related to every matter of life but in the case of modern sections of business and society consensus from Islamic scholars has to be taken such as intellectual property and corporate law. No matter which modern law has to be implemented for matters not addressed in Sharia, still the primary source of law for Kingdom are Islamic principles.[irp]

King Abdul Aziz in 1932 founded Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and addressed all important matters such as Sharia courts, administrative tribunals, and resolution of disputes on contemporary regulations. Although the system implemented was effective but it lacked the confidence of valued juries and authentic verdict makers and order had to be made directly by King. Owing to this fact King Abdullah in 2007 ordered judicial reforms to eliminate lacking in the judicial system of Kingdom. Sharia courts in Kingdom are the basic source of justice and represent. Along with Sharia courts, there are non-Sharia tribunals as well which uphold other matters related to a specific royal decree. The final appeal has to be made to King and he is the final decision-maker in case decision is challenged taken by Sharia or non-Sharia courts. Sharia courts cover both types of cases, civil as well as criminal cases. In KSA there are two types of courts holding Jurisprudence. One is general court and the other is summary courts. Summary courts deal with a lesser number of cases as compare to general courts of Sharia. Besides Sunni community, there are specifically two types of courts for Shia community as well in Riyadh and Mecca. One court deals with domestic matters and the other one handle criminal and other civil cases including reviews on decisions taken.

Board of Grievances is an important non-Sharia court, which deals with complaints against government, commercial and criminal incidents such as bribery and forgery. It also covers administrative tribunals for dealing with royal decrees and labor plus commercial laws.  The legal system of KSA imposes strict punishments for criminal cases such as beheading, stoning, lashing, amputation. These are not just punishments set for internationally banned acts as severe crimes like murder, rape, kidnap etc. it includes witchcraft, adultery, apostasy or sorcery and may result in the death of the proved criminal even in each case by different ways. Saudi legal system has established a special police force for implementation and guarding of Islamic matters known as Mutawa and Mabahith. This police force had to face rebuke from different human right organizations of the western region. KSA legal system has to face criticism from outside the world for lack of religious freedom, executions of homosexuals and lack of safeguard and justice for accused criminals of vulgarity offense.[irp]

Owing to lacking in Saudi system of justice in 2007 King Abdullah issued a royal decree for implementation of certain reforms in the judicial system of Kingdom. He ordered for the establishment of a supreme court and for conversion of non-Sharia Court Board of Grievances into a general court system. This reform yet has to be implemented. Another major reform is the establishment of appeal courts. In 2008 specialized criminal courts were established, the first trial taken by the court was in 2011 against 85 suspects of Al Qaeda and charged human rights activist with punishment ranging from 5-30 years of imprisonment. Another reform was the inclusion of young judges in judiciary personnel to take contemporary decisions. Abdul Rahman Al Keya was appointed by King as first chief justice of Supreme Court and board of Grievances as well. The law has to be enforced by two police forces inside Kingdom. One is Mutawa, religious police, which deals with Islamic matters and crimes and other is secret police known as Mabahith. This police force manages daily law and enforcement activities and is managed by a royal family member.

Family law has set polygamy a valid option for men. It is prohibited for women, in the case of having one relationship she can never take another without taking divorce. According to Grand Mufti in KSA in 2001, polygamy is a permissible practice by Islam to stop increasing numbers of Polygamy which further give rise to many moral problems in Islamic society. The inheritance laws have to be followed according to the decree of Quran. Women are entitled to receive half of the amount of share from inheritance as compare to male heirs. Owing to commercial, labor and land law specialized government tribunals are established known as “committees”. After participation in WTO (World trade organization) KSA intellectual property law has been revised to meet international standards of law. Partnerships and corporate sector follow Saudi company law implemented in 1932. Labor law restricts employers with certain responsibilities in Kingdom. Labors are entitled to receive the end of service payments, perquisites and benefits during services and at the time or retirement or termination. The land law has distributed land in KSA in three zones, developed, undeveloped and protective zones. The developed zone can be sold and purchased as comprising of residential and commercial areas. Undeveloped areas are publicly available for grazing of animals. Harim land is known as a protective zone which is used to collect fuels and for animal feeding.[irp]

Energy laws state that all natural resources of energy and oil is the property of the state and are managed and owned by Saudi Royal family. Saudi ministry of petroleum and Mineral Resources had established Saudi Aramco, world’s biggest oil refining and supplying company. KSA has for the very first time allowed foreign oil and gas companies in 2004 to for search oil and gas reserves in Kingdom. There is no concept of political freedom in KSA. No one can make a political speech, conduct election campaigns or criticize the government or any of the royal family members or their acts. Religious freedom is prohibited in Kingdom. No one can practice any other religion than Islam. As more than one million Christians are residing in Kingdom for jobs and business purposes, still they are not allowed to practice their religion in any case. Mutawa (Religious police) in Kingdom strictly observe such acts and stop them. Homosexual relationships and marriages are strictly prohibited in Kingdom and may even result in the execution of proved crime. Apostasy can also result in the death of the person who converted from Islam inside the Kingdom.

There is no concept of woman dominance inside the Kingdom. KSA falls at the rank of 131st among those 135 countries of the world where males dominate the society. Women can never give divorce to her husband in any case. She gets separated to her husband in case of any non-adjustment among spouses but that is much difficult without the consent of her husband. Women can’t drive and even can’t visit market without their male member (Mahram). Women have to wear abaya outside their houses and in public gatherings.  Although the legal system of KSA has several restriction and rigidities still it is one of the fine structures of law. There is need of few amendments and changes to meet contemporary needs of society and the modern world. The biggest need is to implement the reform of establishment of Supreme Court.

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Steve has been living in Saudi Arabia since 2013 and writing about Saudi rules, regulations, guides, and procedures since then.