Saudi Judiciary Reform Moves Slowly

Saudi Arabia will build 180 courthouses over the next six months as part of King Abdullah’s project to reform the country’s judicial system, al-Hayat reported today.

Majed al-Adwan, who leads the project at the Ministry of Justice, told the newspaper that the ministry is working hard to provide the proper environment to help streamline the litigation procedures and using technology to speed up such procedures.

The project to overhaul the judicial system was announced in October 2007, and it included the allocation of $ 2 billion for training judges and building new courthouses.

The Saudi judicial system is administered by conservative judges trained in Islamic Sharia has long been criticized, especially after some cases in recent years that gained international attention like the Qatif Girl case. The system has been also seen as vague and lacking some of the basic safeguards of justice. Citizens complain that cases often take years in courts to be resolved due to the small number of judges.

King Abdullah’s decision to reform the system was hailed as “one of the most significant reform moves King Abdullah has made so far.”

But the old guard at the the justice ministry has reportedly resisted calls for reform, and critics of MOJ say the ministry have flooded the media with hollow promises. Saudi lawyer Bander Alno­gaithan, a Harvard law school graduate, often uses Twitter to chronicle his dissatisfaction with the country’s judiciary.

“It seems to me that the ministry has given up on reforming the judiciary on the ground and concentrated its effort on creating an ‘image’ that is totally different from reality,” he said.

The 2011 annual report for the Court of Grievances said that the 822 judges employed by the court have dealt with a total of 99,103 cases and gave rulings in 58,184 of them. 1,023 jobs at the court remained vacant, the report said.