Saudi Arabia is achieving progress in the legal arena, but more must be done to ensure the application of due process in the country, a United Nations expert said following a weeklong mission to the country.
Speaking to reporters in Riyadh on Sunday, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Dato’ Param Cumaraswamy, cited a number of positive developments, including plans by the Government to ratify key human rights treaties. The Saudi legal system is being reformed, including through the adoption of a new criminal procedure code on the rights of the accused which marks “an important step in the regulation of the administration of justice.”
While noting that Saudi law provides an independent judiciary, the Special Rapporteur voiced concern about its application. “I have learned that there is some resistance on the part of some judges to the presence of lawyers in their courts due to a perception that they interfere with the ability of the judge to ensure that justice is done in a particular case,” he said, adding that some prosecutors reportedly feel that lawyers interfere with their ability to investigate.
“There has not been a culture of legal representation in the courts, but this may soon be rectified,” he observed, encouraging the Government to continue its efforts to regulate and improve the qualifications of lawyers without in any way impinging on their independence.
He expressed concern about a number of conditions, including the lack of compliance with certain international standards of due process, particularly with respect to the right of arrested or detained persons to be promptly brought before a court. “I am also concerned about the frequent reliance on confessional evidence before the courts to prove an offence,” the expert said.
Noting that about half of all law graduates are women who often do not progress to the practice of law, he recommends that more women be encouraged seek admission to the legal profession and practice before the courts.
While in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Cumaraswamy met with numerous officials, including ministers, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, those involved in legal education and representatives of the prison service. He voiced appreciation to the Government for facilitating the mission, saying the authorities were “open to my questions and willing to share information concerning the operation of their judicial system.”
The Special Rapporteur’s full report will be presented to the UN Commission on Human Rights in March.