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Saudi courts may soon have women lawyers

Delay in government decision not justified, but ceiling of expectations rising

  • By Jumana Al Tamimi, Associate Editor
  • Published: 13:17 October 4, 2012
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: AFP
  • A Saudi woman waves her national flag.

Dubai: A first group of nearly 300 Saudi women lawyers are expected to be licensed to argue clients’ cases in courtrooms in the near future, Saudi press reports have said.

The move, which is yet to be approved by the Saudi government, will put an end to several years of debate on whether women have the right to present cases of their clients in Islamic courts in the conservative kingdom.

“Every day, I see it closer than the day earlier,” said Hatoun Al Fassi, a prominent Saudi women’s rights activist and assistant university professor of the expected move. “At every stage, the ceiling of expectations becomes higher.”

“I believe the delay [of the issue] like many other things is not justified,” she told Gulf News, commenting on reports anticipating a decision allowing women lawyers to argue their clients’ cases in courts.

Hatoun noted that the government inclination in the issue is still vague, lacking clear media reports and official statements.

Currently, women lawyers represent clients as civilian representatives and not as attorneys-at-law.

In Saudi, a court representative does not have to be a lawyer, activists and reports say.

Saudi women lawyers, estimated at nearly 2,000, face difficulties in getting training because they are not allowed to practise the profession legally in court.

Saudi Arabia, which doesn’t allow women to drive cars, follows a policy of segregation of men and women in public places, including universities and banks. Women were promised to be allowed to vote in the next municipal elections. No Saudi women were appointed yet, as a minister, an ambassador or a member of the Shura (consultative) council.

Only this year, Saudi women athletes were allowed to participate in the Olympic Games for the first time ever.

Allowing women to practise law legally in courts has “a myriad benefits” said Hatoun.

Courts, she continued, which are expected to serve both men and women, can’t be comprised of men only.

“Also, the presence of qualified women with legal experience in courtroom will constitute a “major step for many women”.

Some Saudi press reports predicated that women will be allowed to practise law in all civilian and criminal cases. However, Hatoun agrees with the opinion that women lawyers will be allowed mainly in family related cases, such as divorce, child custody matters and alimony.

“These represent nearly three quarters of the cases in Saudi courts, and which are still pending a ruling,” Hatoun said.

“Women are expected to defend women in their cases.”

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