The Saudi Arabian court system is regulated by the Law of Judiciary promulgated by Royal Decree No. M/78 on 19/09/1428H corresponding to 1 October 2007.
The Law of the Judiciary is administered by the Ministry of Justice in accordance with the directives of the government relating to the development of the judiciary. In 2007 H.H. King Abdullah issued royal decrees with the aim of reforming the legal system. Some of the changes foreshadowed by the reforms have already been implemented.
The structure of the new court system
Once the reforms have been fully implemented, the court system will be organised hierarchically as expressed diagrammatically below.
1) Some Criminal matters are still being dealt with by the Board of Grievances.
2) The Commercial Courts have not yet been established. Until they are, the Board of Grievances will continue to exercise first instance jurisdiction over commercial matters.
3) The Labour Courts have not yet been established. Until they are, the Primary Commission for Settlement of Labour Disputes (of the Ministry of Labour) will continue to resolve employment disputes.
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court, in Riyadh, is the highest appellate court in Saudi Arabia. The jurisdiction of the Court is spelt out by Article 11 of the Law of Justice:
Each province in the Kingdom has at least one appellate court. There are 5 categories of appellate courts, with jurisdiction as follows:
Article 17 of the Judiciary Law says that “the appellate courts shall look in judgments issued by the first instances courts. They shall issue judgment after viewing the respondents' petitions according to Shari’ah Procedure law courts and law of criminal procedure”.
Courts of First Instance
There are courts of first instance in the various provinces and governorate. The Law of Procedures before the Shari’a Courts issued by Royal Decree No. M/1 on 22/01/1435H corresponding to 25 November 2013 regulates the jurisdictions of the courts of first instance. This is supplemented by the Law of Criminal Procedures, which was issued by Royal Decree No. M/2 on 22/01/1435H corresponding to 25 November 2013 in relation to the jurisdiction of first instance Criminal Courts.
Article 31 of the Law of Procedures before the Shari’a Courts states that “General Courts shall have jurisdiction over all claims and cases or the like not under the jurisdiction of other courts, notary public, and Board of Grievances. In particular, such courts shall have jurisdiction over the following:
Article 128 of the Law of Criminal Procedures states:
Without prejudice to the jurisdiction of other courts, the criminal court shall have jurisdiction over all criminal cases.
Article 20 of the Judiciary Law states:
The criminal court shall compose the following specialised panels:
(a) Panels for punishments (Qassas) and Shari'ah laws (Al Houdood).
(b) Panels for discretionary punishments (Tazir).
(c) Panels for juveniles/minors.
Article 33 of the Law of Procedures before the Shari’a Courts states that:
Family Courts shall have the jurisdiction over the following:
According to Article 35 of the Law of Procedures before the Shari’a Courts the Commercial courts shall have jurisdiction over the following:
Article 34 of the Law of Procedures before the Shari’a Courts states:
Labour courts shall have jurisdiction over the following:
The new court system, once fully in place, will result in a structure that will be familiar to lawyers in many other jurisdictions. It will simplify and clarify the jurisdictions of the courts. It may also lead to the development of greater specialisation by members of the judiciary which in turn could lead to greater certainty in the dispute resolution process. The initiative is a highly significant reform.