Saudi Arabia Table of Contents
The judicial system is founded upon the sharia, particularly the Hanbali school of Sunni Islam, in accordance with a ruling by King Abd al Aziz in 1926. The Hanbali system of jurisprudence, which rejected analogy as a source of law and gave prominence to the traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, was regarded as especially rigid by most Muslim jurists. If there is no guidance in Hanbali texts, however, Saudi jurists could refer to other schools or exercise their own reasoning.
Two categories of crime are delineated in the sharia: those that are carefully defined and those that are implicit in the requirements and prohibitions of the sharia. For the first category, there are specific penalties; for the second, punishment can be prescribed by a judge (qadi) of a sharia court. A third category of crime has developed through the years as a result of various governmental decrees that specified codes of behavior and regulations considered necessary to maintain public order and security. The first two categories are tried in sharia courts. The third, dealing with corporate law, taxation, oil and gas, and immigration, is handled administratively by government officials (see The Legal System , ch. 4).
The sharia carefully defines crimes--such as homicide, personal injury, adultery, fornication, theft, and highway robbery--and prescribes a penalty (hadd) for each. Various degrees of culpability for homicide and bodily injury are recognized depending on intent, the kind of weapon used, and the circumstances under which the crime occurred. Homicide is considered a crime against a person rather than a crime against society in which the state administers justice of its own volition. Under the sharia, the victim or the victim's family has the right to demand punishment, to grant clemency, or to demand blood money (diya)--a set payment as recompense for the crime.
An act of self-defense is recognized as a right nullifying criminality. Retaliation is permitted to the male next of kin of the victim by killing the criminal in the case of a homicide or exacting the same bodily injury that was inflicted on the victim. Acceptance of diya is, however, considered preferable under the sharia. In cases involving death or grievous injury, the accused is usually held incommunicado. Imprisonment before trial can last weeks or even several months. The right of bail or habeas corpus is not recognized, although persons accused of crimes are sometimes released on the recognizance of a patron or employer. The accused is normally held not more than three days before being formally charged, but it is common for detainees to be held for long periods if the investigation is incomplete.
At trials for minor offenses, qadis hear complaints and then cross-examine plaintiffs, defendants, and any witnesses. The judge assigns great significance to a defendant's sworn testimony, although the testimony of two women is required to equal that of one man. In the absence of two witnesses, oral confessions before a judge are almost always required for conviction. Trials are held without jurors and are generally closed. They are normally held without counsel, although lawyers can advise the accused before the trial. Attorneys may also be allowed to act at interpreters for those unfamiliar with Arabic. Consular access is not usually permitted during the trials of foreign nationals. After determining guilt or innocence, a sentence, if appropriate, is imposed by the judge. In certain criminal cases, punishment can be referred to a local governor or shaykh for sentencing upon the advice of a local Muslim jurist or the ulama.
Appeals against judges' decisions are automatically reviewed by the Ministry of Justice or in more serious cases by a court of appeal. There were two sharia courts of appeal, one sitting in Riyadh and the other in Mecca. Appeals are heard by panels of three judges except for sentences of death or amputation, which can only be adjudicated by a panel of five judges. Decisions of the appellate courts are final except for sentences of death and amputation. Cases of capital punishment are automatically referred to the king for final review.
Data as of December 1992
Saudi Arabia Table of Contents