Saudi Gazette reports that a Special High Commission of judicial experts is to be formed to get to work on codifying Sharia law in Saudi Arabia. It’s a bit behind the schedule suggested by King Abdullah last Autumn, and grossly overdue, of course, but at least it’s getting started.

The except to codification will be those sentences spelled out in the Quran, as for capital crimes. Interestingly—and very importantly—the Commission is to take guidance from all four schools of Islamic jurisprudence, not just the Hanbali school which is dominant in the Kingdom. I hope the Commission takes a look at the common law concept of the ‘Rule of Lenity’, a rule of judicial interpretation that says when a law is ambiguous, it should be interpreted in favor of the defendant.

High Commission to lay bases for Shariah verdicts

RIYADH – The Council of Ministers is to form a Special Higher Commission of judicial experts charged with writing laws that will serve as a basis for Shariah court verdicts, legal sources told Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat.

According to the sources, the Commission, which will be independent and directly responsible to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah, will issue three types of laws: financial transaction laws, civil status laws, and penal code laws.

The creation of a Commission with the power to write such laws was stipulated in legislation on the organizational arrangements of the judiciary and courts for the settlement of disputes which was endorsed by King Abdullah on April 3, 2005.

The Saudi judiciary bases its verdicts on the Hanbali school of thought, but the Commission, which has not yet been formed, will be empowered to review the most common rules in the four Islamic schools of thought: the Hanbali, Maliki, Shafei, and Hanafi.

Commenting on choosing the most common rules from within the four schools of thought, the legal source said, “It is an attempt to widen the horizon and scope of judicial understanding in the public interest.”

He pointed out that verdicts are principally based upon the most common ruling supported by an authenticated testimony, and that now the Commission would have the freedom to choose rules from the other schools of thoughts, thus providing justice, while minimizing the chance of wide differences in court verdicts.

As of now, judges have complete discretion to set sentences, except in cases where Shariah outlines a punishment, such as capital crimes. This means no two judges would likely hand down the same verdict for similar crimes.


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