Saudi Arabia’s justice minister, Mohammed Al-Eissa, says his department is drafting a law that would allow female lawyers to argue legal cases in court for the first time.
He told reporters on Saturday the bill will be issued in the coming days as part of King Abdullah’s “plan to develop the justice system.” The law would mark a major step for female lawyers in the Kingdom.
Currently, women law graduates can work in government offices and in court offices, but cannot argue cases before court.
Under the new law, women would be allowed to argue cases on child custody, divorce and other family related issues.
“In accordance with the new law, women will be able to complete their preliminary procedures with notaries by just presenting their IDs,” said Osama Al-Mirdas, assistant deputy minister of justice for documents.
He said women would be able to complete judicial procedures for registration of properties, housing plans, merging of real estate properties of different persons or classification of property ownership, by just presenting their IDs. “They can also use IDs for mortgaging real estate at nongovernmental funds and for authorizing corporate contracts, sponsorship and gifts.”
Al-Mirdas said the new regulations were planned in order to facilitate judicial procedures and break the routine barriers that obstruct women from approaching notaries. The ministry has also introduced a new documentation system in tune with the systems followed in other countries, he said, adding that it had reduced the burden of courts. “The new procedures are aimed at reducing the burden of those who approach judicial authorities to get their works done and speed up things without affecting the correctness of documents and soundness of procedures. They also aim at realising justice and protecting the rights of people,” Al-Mirdas said.
New laws cosmetic
Conversely, Washington-based Ali Alyami, Executive Director at the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, sees the proposed law as “another step to silence domestic demands, [since] the Saudi’s are demanding their rights more than others, especially women.” He views this initiative as part of the “cosmetic changes” undertaken by the Saudi government in order to “silence their critics from within and to appease their critics from outside...who speak the truth about the Saudi system.”
This, says Alyami, is “part of the Saudi government’s international and domestic policy aimed at restoring its […] internationally tarnished image, especially since 9/11. They are spending millions of dollars to tell the world that they are doing something they are not doing. And this is one of [those instances].”
According to Alyami, the whole Saudi judicial system has to be transformed from top to bottom and from bottom to top: “The authorities are the same religious extremists who have formed in their minds, millions of years ago, that women are inferior. Even if women are allowed to argue their cases [in court], who are the persons deciding whether their argument, judgment, defence is right or not?”
Long term focus
Lawyer Abdullah Yassin at Abdulnasir Al-Sohibani Law Firm in Riyadh is, however, optimistic that the law, currently still under discussion at the Shoura Council in Saudi Arabia, will be passed and changes will be implemented: “There will be changes but on the longer term”, he said.