Saudi to codify Sharia and reform criminal law system: more clarity in terrorism-related trials

Saudi Arabia’s top religious body has given the green light to codify the largely unwritten Sharia regulations governing the kingdom’s criminal, civil and family courts in order to bring more clarity and uniformity to judicial rulings. The codification project is part of a major overhaul of the country’s legal system initiated three years ago by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.

Legal reforms are especially needed in the criminal law system. Criminal courts are a frequent targets of criticism from Saudi lawyers and human rights activists. The absence of a penal code with clear definitions of crimes and appropriate sentences gives judges great latitude and it is not uncommon for a judge to increase a sentence if a defendant exercises his right to appeal. Defendants are not always given lawyers and trials are generally not open to the public.

Last year, 330 suspects detained on terrorism-related charges were tried in secret in a new court attached to Riyadh General Court. Most of them were sentenced to prison terms of varying lengths and one received the death sentence, which the government announced after the trials were over.

Saudi rights activists and lawyers in touch with families of detainees said the trials amounted to summary judgments in which the defendants did not have appropriate opportunities to challenge evidence presented by prosecutors.

“It’s shameful to have this kind of trial [because] there are a lot of mistakes,” said Abdelaziz M al Gasim, a former judge who now works as a lawyer. He said that one defendant received a 10-year sentence for giving a lift to people whom he did not know were al Qa’eda members. “There are no lawyers, no family, no audience, no journalists, so it is broken trials,” said Mr al Gasim.

Saudi judges are said to be weary of any code that would impinge their independence to apply their own legal reasoning, or ijtihad. However, some Saudis say that creating more transparency and predictability in the legal process will not weaken the rule of Sharia in the legal system.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: