Saudi’s legal system is based on the principles of Sharia law and has remained largely unchanged for decades. However, in recent years the government has modernised the system by introducing online court services and other technological advances. There have also been a series of legal reforms seeking to bring the commercial courts closer to international best practice.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a further acceleration of these changes, with the Saudi government taking steps to digitise the court system and make it more accessible to the public. In this article, we will explore the changes that have taken place, why they were introduced and how they are helping to modernise the Saudi legal system.
Recent Reforms to the Legal System
COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst for change in many areas of life, and one of those is the legal system. However, even prior to the pandemic, the Saudi government was already taking steps to modernise the system and facilitate a more attractive commercial environment for international investors. Here are some of the key reforms that have been introduced in recent years.
Licencing for Foreign Law Firms
In 2022, the Saudi government issued a formal licensing regime for foreign law firms to operate in the Kingdom. This is a significant development, as it officially opens up the Saudi legal market to international firms for the first time. It is also a reflection of the government’s commitment to attracting foreign investment and talent and providing a level playing field for all businesses operating in the Kingdom.
In order to apply for a licence, foreign law firms must have two partners that reside within the Kingdom, no more than 30% of their fee revenue must originate from out KSA, and no work related to Saudi law may be passed on to an external office.
Increase in Female Legal Professors
There has been a significant increase in the number of female legal professors in Saudi Arabia in recent years. This is part of a broader government initiative to encourage women to participate more fully in the workforce and give them equal opportunities to succeed.
Over a decade ago, there were no licensed Saudi female lawyers, and in 2022, there are now over 1,000. Although female lawyers may still be a minority, this figure is expected to grow steadily as more women choose law as a career.
Electronic Legal Services
One of the most significant changes has been the introduction of an online court system, which has modernised the way in which cases are heard and processed. This has resulted in a more efficient and effective system, with faster turnaround times for cases.
It is now possible to file legal documents electronically, submit evidence online, and even attend court hearings via video link. This has made the system more accessible for litigants, as they no longer need to physically attend court in all cases.
Laws for the 21st Century
With the nation’s digital transformation in full swing, it’s become necessary to introduce laws that govern new technologies and business models. In recent years, the Saudi government has enacted a number of laws relating to e-commerce, data protection, and cybercrime.
These laws are designed to encourage innovation and investment, while also ensuring that consumers and businesses are protected from harm. Influencers have also been regulated, with a new law introduced this year that requires anyone generating an income through social media to apply for a licence.
Looking to the Future
The Saudi legal system is continuing to evolve, and the pace of change is likely to accelerate in the coming years. This is positive news for businesses operating in the Kingdom, as it creates a more predictable and transparent regulatory environment.
It is also encouraging to see the government taking steps to increase female participation in the legal profession, as this can only lead to a more balanced and effective system in the long-term. With the right reforms in place, the Saudi legal landscape is well-positioned to meet the challenges of the 21st century.