Judicial Foundation and Legal Codification
The legal system of Saudi Arabia is based primarily on the principles of Shari’a.
King Abdullah Bin Abd-Alaziz approved on October 2, 2007 a significant reform initiative with regard to the judicial system. The new judicial order asserts that judges are independent and not subjected to any authority in carrying out their duties other than the provisions of Islamic law (Shari’) and existing regulations. No body is allowed to interfere in judicial affairs.
Judicial Structure and Court System
The judicial system is composed of a three-tiered hierarchy of Shari’a Courts. At the base of the hierarchy courts of first instance are of 5 types: General courts, penal courts, and personal status courts, commercial and labor courts. The new law defined the role of courts of appeal to one of reviewing sentences passed by courts of first instance that could be appealed. The Court of Appeal, located in Riyadh, serves as the second level of the judiciary. For the bulk of matters, the Court of Appeals represents the final court of appeal. The Court of Appeals sits in chambers of three or more judges and makes majority decisions.
Judicial Authority and Appointment of Judges
The Supreme Judicial Council is empowered to appoint, promote, and transfer judges. The new law confined the role of the Supreme Judicial Council to overlooking the judges’ affairs. Article 69 raised judges retirement age to 70 years old. It defined the rules of terminating the career of judges in cases of resignation, requesting early retirement according to the civil service law, non-competence, disability, or in case a judge receives below average score 3 consecutive times with regard to competence ratings, and in case his service is terminated as a result of disciplinary action.
At the apex of the structure sits the Supreme Court. Judicial jurisdiction was transferred in 2007from the “Supreme Judicial Council” to the “Supreme Court” which is a new entity charged with monitoring the implementation of the provisions of Islamic Law and making sure that all other laws do not contradict Sharia’. The Supreme Court also reviews all sentences passed or approved by the courts of appeal in murder and other major cases.
There are a number of judicial and quasi-judicial institutions with specialized jurisdictions. Some of these include the Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Committee on Commercial Paper, Supreme Commission on Labor Disputes, Commission on Impeachment of Ministers, and separate councils for civil servants, military personnel, and government employees. The judgments made in all of these bodies may be appealed to the Grievance Board. The Board, created in 1955, is currently organized and structured by the Royal Decree of October 2, 2007. It is defined as “an independent administrative judicial body” that reports directly to the King and whose judges enjoy the same immunity enjoyed by judges of the regular judicial system and are committed by the same duties. Courts that fall under the Grievances Bureau include the Supreme Administrative Court, administrative appeals courts and ordinary administrative courts. The Supreme Administrative Court hears the objections against the rulings of the administrative appeals courts. Ordinary administrative courts deal with administrative suits concerning the rights of employees, administrative decisions, compensation suits, contracts’ suits in which the state is a party to the dispute and suits concerning disciplinary action. Administrative courts also hear requests pertaining to enforcing sentences passed by foreign courts and foreign arbitrators.
Judicial Education and Profession
There are a number of law schools in Saudi Arabia. These include Umm Al-Qura University College of Islamic Law & Studies, Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University College of Islamic Law & Studies, Islamic University Higher Institute of Judiciary, Islamic University Islamic Law & Basic Religion, and Islamic University Shari'ah (Islamic Law) College.