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Significant legislative reform announced in Saudi Arabia

17 February 2021 | Middle East
Legal Briefings – By Nick Oury, Nasser Almulhim and Emma Tormey

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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (“KSA”) has announced sweeping legislative reforms in a bid to increase the efficiency of its judicial institutions and Court processes and to develop the uniform application of KSA laws by the Courts.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has announced a comprehensive plan which proposes to introduce new laws and amend existing laws. The aim of this plan is to enhance KSA’s legislative framework, including by introducing reforms to the judicial system.  Four new draft laws are currently being prepared as part of the latest reforms. The draft laws are expected to be submitted to the Council of Minsters for review imminently, before submission to the Shurah Council which will advise on the proposed legislation.

The new draft laws which are under preparation include the following:

  1. Civil Transactions Law;
  2. Penal Code for Discretionary Sanctions;
  3. Law of Evidence; and
  4. Personal Status Law

An official statement from the Crown Prince’s office explained “The new laws represent a new wave of reforms that will ... increase the reliability of procedures and oversight mechanisms as cornerstones in achieving the principles of justice, clarifying the lines of accountability.” Commenting on the Crown Prince’s official announcement, the Minister of Justice, Dr Walid Al Samani, said that “The draft new laws will be limiting the role of the courts in applying the statutory text”.

The changes aim to bring the KSA legal system in line with both international standards and shari’ah, by creating a more transparent legal framework. We understand that new mechanisms will also be introduced, so there are fewer discrepancies in Court decisions. This is a significant step towards more certainty for those accessing the KSA legal system and the announcement is a welcome step both for legal practitioners and those doing business in the Kingdom.

This announcement follows a growing number of significant reforms to the KSA legal system, including the introduction of the KSA Bankruptcy Law (2018), the new Government Tenders and Procurement Law and Regulations (2019/2020), the Securing Rights on Movable Assets Law (2020), ‎the amendments to the KSA Labour Law (2020) (including the introduction of new rights for foreign workers in KSA which will come into effect in March 2021), and the Commercial Courts Law (April 2020), which introduced several new measures to improve the efficiency of the judicial system in KSA.

The legislative reforms in KSA, as well as recent significant economic and social reforms, have been led by the Crown Prince as part of the Kingdom’s economic development plan, ‘Vision 2030’. A key aim of this economic development plan is to diversify the economy, with less reliance on oil revenues and to attract foreign talent and investment.

Whilst it is expected that the new laws may be published during the course of 2021, the timing remains to be confirmed.

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