The Riyadh skyline, as seen from the window of a skyscraper under construction. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Sometime back, an official in the Higher Institute for Justice at Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University was giving a discourse on the execution of justice in the Kingdom. Now, Saudi Arabia has come a long, long way from the days of yore.

Going back to this honourable individual who happened to be the dean of the Higher Institute for Justice stated that “The media does not have the right to interfere in judges’ rulings or in the process of a trial.” No argument about that as the media should not be prejudicial in an ongoing case, but I question the idea that we should accept a judge’s ruling good or bad without merit.

Dr. Al-Zaid continued “Justice is the only thing that a judge should have to deal with,” declaring that media intrusion could have a negative impact on the verdict.” Granted that such intrusions could impact a case, why should they be negative? Does that mean that any case under review will be damned by the judges if the media expresses an interest in the judicial process or the outcome?

“Because a judge’s ruling is accepted by the governorate, the police and other authorities and is not questioned, which means his responsibility is a very great one and he should review his ruling more than once,” Al-Zaid said, adding that judges are human and can make mistakes like any human.

Now here is where we can expect a problem. A judge makes a ruling. He cannot be questioned on it, as Dr. Zaid states. Yet as he is human, it could be possible that he has made a mistake like anybody else and erred. So, who suffers consequentially?

The judge for the media backlash that is sure to arise, or the person or persons on whom the errant judgement has been declared on? The case of enforced divorces in the past on happily married couples because of tribal matters surely did not cause the judges who carried out such verdicts sleepless nights filled with anguish as much as the miserably forced apart couple. It is not the judge I assure you who suffers.

Dr. Zaid defended the actions of judges by noting that their mistakes were a consequence of personal differences due to individual interpretations of each case, and not an abuse of power. By admitting that the qualifications of judges in the Kingdom in the matter of the law were not uniform, he offered “Some of them have advanced degrees and others have experience gained from their practice. They have learnt their job due to extensive experience and for that reason, they have been given absolute authority.”

Why is it that we have to seek justice from those whose whims, regional affiliations, or personal interpretations may override common sense and a codified system of justice which the government has been gradually introducing in recent years? Why were judges so defensive about media intrusion if their verdicts would have truly been in accordance with the laws of the Sharia? The media would have no reason to question recent bizarre rulings. And ‘absolute authority’ not honoured properly can be indeed a very dangerous thing.

And to expect the media to be quiet and not challenge a ruling smack of a troublesome future for the rights of those seeking justice. While I agree that that the media has a responsibility towards truthful and unbiased reporting, it should not be barred from disclosing outcomes of cases that carry no legal basis. If we do not have uniformity when dispensing justice, then we have no justice, plain and simple. And justice meted out must be in accordance with the rulings of the Sharia and nothing else.

Those judges who allow their own prejudices and personal interpretations that go smack against the Sharia to govern a case and issue questionable verdicts must be re-educated or shown the door. The new cadre of judges that have been introduced in the Saudi judicial system has been a boon, especially when it came to the preservation of women’s rights. The government’s enforcement of strict laws and measures to protect and preserve the right of women has also spread over the judicial system and that is good news for the female residents of the kingdom.

Cases in the past that were almost predictably in favour of the male have seen a gradual shift to unbiased judgements regardless of gender. The court of appeals allows anyone who feels wrongly subjected to a ruling to gather the required evidence and appeal the judgement. Yes indeed, the kingdom has come a long way.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena