The Saudi Arabian government has always rejected plans to adopt a secular written constitution (Calvert 12). According to the government officials, the country’s legal system has been structured in accordance with the Islamic Shariah laws. In the year 2007, King Abdullah introduced some amendments in the country’s laws. These laws allow the kingdom legislative authority to legislate constitutional decrees (Chapman 11). In Saudi Arabia, the king, consultative council, and the council of ministers constitute the legislative authority. Though the amendments are considered as significant steps towards a written constitution, foreign diplomats have criticised the initiatives (Clements 23). According to the critics, the laws do not meet the internationally recognised standards. Notably, the critics argue that the laws are irrelevant in the contemporary society (Braude 45). As such, the laws limit the public participation in the government affairs. Despite these, the US government has never criticised the Saudi Arabian laws (Lerrick 90). For instance, during President Bush’s administration government publicly endorsed the Saudi Arabian laws (Kirpalani 32).
Hierarchy of laws in Saudi Arabia
In the year 1992, King Fahd Abdel-Aziz issued three major laws (Cotran 24). The laws arranged in their hierarchy are as follows: the basic laws of the government, the consultative council laws, and the laws of provinces. The basic laws of the government oversee the country’s constitutional framework features. On the other hand, the consultative council laws were legislated to substitute the existing council established in the year 1926 (Dana 56). The new laws mandate the king to appoint the consultative council members (Wright 20). Alternatively, the laws of provinces regulate the relationship between the central government organisations and the regional governors (Lipchin 32).
According to the basic laws of the government, the king is a major sovereign rulemaking function (McBride 76). These laws allow the king to make decisions over state organisations and authorities. Through this, the king can enact and amend treaties on behalf of the country (Kay 89). In general, the basic laws allow the king to be the overall interpreter of the country’s constitution. By doing so, the basic law strengthens the king’s authority in the royal family (Heidemann 12). Equally, the basic laws confirm the system of government as monarchy, thus overlooking the possibility of replacing the reigning family out of the government (Keesee 45).
Second in the hierarchy are the consultative council laws (Peter 87). These laws mandate the council authority and the council of ministers to monitor both the executive and legislative functions (Kershaw 16). In accordance with the consultative council laws, the two councils can approve or draft laws, concessions, and international agreements under the king’s directives (Kavoossi 56). Through the laws, the council authority oversees the executive matters and implement decisions deemed beneficial to the country (Rached & Dina 12).
Third in the hierarchy are the laws of provinces. These laws were legislated in the year 1963, and implemented in the year 1992 (Henry & Robert 109). According to the country’s legal system, the laws were legislated to give provinces a measure of autonomy (Lowe 17). Similarly, the laws mandate the king to appoint provincial councils, governors, and royal elders. Unlike the earlier provision, the new law does not envisage the election of any of the regional council members (Roberts 38). According to foreign diplomats, the new laws have limited mandate has compared to the laws proposed in the year 1963. Despite its legislation, activists argue that the government is still suppressing the effects of the laws (Mutawakil 12).
Commercial laws and Contract laws
Like other laws, commercial laws and contract laws in Saudi Arabia are governed by Quran principles (Doumato 6). The Board of Grievances governs commercial matters in the country. This board consists of several judges trained under Sharia schools. Most foreign investors have been reluctant to invest in the country due to fear of the Sharia regulations (Heinrichs 56). The contract laws permit substantial freedoms for parties to agree on contract terms and conditions. Nevertheless, contracts with payment of interests are unlawful under the laws (Dupret 90). This implies that the government will only compensate parties with proven, direct damages. Consequently, seeking compensation with speculative reasons is illegal in accordance with the Sharia laws (Fawzy & Ahmed 23). Saudi Arabian commercial and contract laws recognise only the corporate business entities stipulated by Sharia. This implies that other types of companies restricted by Sharia rules are illegal in the country (Goode 43). In the recent past, the commercial and contract laws were amended to match with the World Trade Organisation standards (Dalhuisen 45). Before the amendments, the country had less than 100 registered patents with more than 90000 patents pending (Gupta 78). Currently, the number of registered patents has increased significantly reducing the number of pending applications (North 76).
Aspects of the Saudi Arabian contract law
In Saudi Arabia, contract law is administered under the directives of the Hanbali School (Heydemann 45). The Sharia school is run by radical conservatisms in accordance with the interpretation of the Quran (Nielsen 23). Contract law is administered to all parties regardless of their religion and race, so long as they meet the Sharia rules (Janin 23). Under this law, a contract is realised through the exchange of services or products considered as commodities. However, this law does not consider some things as commodities such as pigs and alcohol (Burkhart & Susan 78). Similarly, contract formation has two exceptions, namely, contract constituting interests and speculative contracts (Brekoulakis 77). Unlike most modern legal systems in Western countries, conclusion of contracts in Saudi Arabia must be carried out simultaneously with the transaction of offer and acceptance (Reznikoff 54). Notably, the parties can still withdraw their contracts offer even after the acceptance (Goode & Denis 45).
As compared to other contract laws in Islamic nations, offer and acceptance are significant aspects of contract law in Saudi Arabia (Baamir 67). Under this law, offer refers to all proposals leading to an agreement when acceptance exists. This implies that individuals initiating offers ought to fulfil their initiatives. Consequently, individuals initiating offers must not revoke their offers upon acceptance (Nasr 9).
Under the contract laws, statements of the offers are written in the past tense. Failure to do so amounts to invalid offers (Karam 34). According to the contract laws, writing of the statements in the past tense indicates the sellers’ aims to execute a genuine offer. Once the buyer accepts the offer, revoke of the results to breach of contract.
International principles with the Saudi Arabian contract laws
In Saudi Arabia, foreign contract laws are enforced if they are in accordance with the Sharia laws (Madani 47). This implies that all contracts against the rules of Sharia are illegal. As such, gambling and other related business contracts are not enforceable. In Saudi Arabia, the Board of Grievances enforces international foreign contract policies (Richard 23). According to the Board’s rules, international contracts are awarded if they conform to the Sharia laws and their applicants attest reciprocity of enforcement (Alrabaa 23).
The Saudi Arabian legal system is rated below the internationally accepted laws (Butler & Larry 67). The country’s laws are inefficient in to tackle contemporary issues in their societies. In the year 2007, king Abdullah introduced some amendments the country’s legal system and judicial system with the aim of reforming the court systems (Sasson 45). The effects of these amendments are yet to be realized since the amendments have not been implemented fully. In these amendments, the Board of Grievances has been transferred to the modernized court system (Vlachová & Lea 7). With these new changes in the country’s legal system, Sharia courts’ powers have been reduced (Yamani 45). As such, the courts would not be able to preside over some of the cases and administrative tribunals. Similarly, in the laws of provinces changes have been initiated in each province (Langley 125). Similarly, in the year 2009, king Abdullah made some important changes in the country’s judicial system to enhance the implementation of the country’s laws (Saleh 50). Through these initiatives, the king integrated the younger generation into the country’s judicial system previously dominated by the older generation (Grundmann 23). Although the new laws have made it easier for the Saudis to challenge their validity and appeal for their change, they should note that the laws do not guarantee protection for most fundamental human rights (Ahmari 34).
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