Mashael Al Qahtani

Mashael Al Qahtani

Journalist

Saudi Shura members push on women’s inclusion in the judicial field

In a new recommendation calling for women’s inclusion in the judicial field, a number of Saudi Shura Council members (the Shura council is the general consultative assembly of Saudi Arabia) are rallying for the employment of specialized and qualified female cadres across legislative ranks.

Quoting sources from within the council, a number of Saudi newspapers reported that, members who submitted the recommendation stressed on the Kingdom’s buildup of qualified female capital across legal and judicial fields; a move that they believed would tackle these fields’ enduring talent gap – particularly, undersupply across judge ranks –  in Saudi Arabia.

The recommendation also highlighted women’s longstanding involvement, sizeable workforce contribution, and outperformance across the years in the legal field in other Arab markets, including Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Sudan. Jordan, Egypt and Bahrain joined these markets in recent years, opening up the legal field to female cadres. Saudi women should be no exception, the recommendation noted, and are just as capable and qualified as their Arab counterparts to enter and excel in this space.

Close enough

Women’s inclusion in the Saudi legislative field is neither a farfetched nor distant objective. Rather, it comes at an opportune time as the Saudi National Vision 2030 focally pushes on women’s empowerment.

Recently, the Saudi Ministry of Justice made steadfast progress in favor of women, particularly on personal rights and affairs, in a number of decisions and amendments. The latter reinstated many of Saudi women’s Islam-given rights and freedoms, and ones they had been deprived of for years due to a number of reasons and circumstances.

One example has been the ministry’s annulment of what was known as “Bayt Al Ta’a” , a legal principle stipulating that wives return home to their spouse in the event that they decide to leave. Another step forward included the ministry’s and the Supreme Judicial Council of Saudi Arabia’s spate of processes and principles supporting wives and foster mothers, and protecting family units in cases of separation.

It also facilitated paperwork for women for housing allowances, and removed guardianship mandates off women who are domestically abused – in addition to assigning lawyers to such abuse cases, and provisioning the arrest of abusers before their sentence verdict is out.

As a result, processes and paperwork, particularly for personal affairs, were streamlined and facilitated for women across the board – and many, through electronic channels.

Open door policy

In 2018, the Ministry of Justice opened doors for female cadres across four disciplines: social research, forensic research, legal research and assistance in administrative work. Its first hire immediately counted 300 female employees.

A few weeks later, the ministry made another surprising announcement; for the first time in its history, it opened “investigation lieutenant” vacancies for Saudi women, putting in place stringent qualifications and criteria for applicants.

The role is a critical entry point for anyone wishing to pursue a career at the Saudi Investigation Commission and General Prosecution. It is also a stepping stone for crossing over to more specialized judicial work.

Investigation lieutenants’ work typically involve investigations under the supervision of higher-ranked officers, detention center inspections, general prosecution hearings, sentence oversight; a scope of paramount importance and exposure, reflecting the Ministry of Justice’s high level of trust placed in Saudi female cadres.

Commenting on its decision at the time, the ministry said that it came in light of a large-scale overhaul of Saudi’s General Prosecution system, which had both witnessed and invested in women’s investigation and prosecution capabilities.

Women employed by the general prosecutor’s office will be supporting investigators across all functions, and help with the build and design of a female-only setup for investigative units – in turn, alleviating tensions for female suspects who were reluctant to cooperate with male investigators.

The Minister of Justice followed this announcement with a directive allowing women to obtain a "documentation license” and, whereby holders of these licenses can take on notary duties – including power of attorney, contract documentation and dissolution through private sector-affiliated offices and integrated electronic processes.

Lawyering up

Saudi Arabia’s legal system also saw women’s more prominent presence and workforce contribution in the last few months; in April, Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Justice issued 59 law practice licenses for Saudi women for 2018 – alone, this number accounted for more than a quarter of the total licenses granted for female lawyers over the few earlier years.

That same month, in its annual census, the Ministry of Justice reported an increase of 113% in the number of licenses granted to women lawyers in the past year compared with the previous year; a total of 83 licenses were granted to female lawyers, the largest in comparison with the years before it.

Moreover, the ministry has revealed that the number of female graduates specializing in legal fields across Saudi universities has witnessed a significant growth, in line with the number of license applications it has been receiving from female students.

This, in addition to broadening scopes and jobs for Saudi women across General Prosecution and military ranks, including border guard, customs, prison and traffic roles and jobs.

Women in this article

Dr. Latifa Al-Shaalan is a Saudi university professor, writer, and member of the Saudi Shura Council since 2013.

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