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Saudi Arabia minister to propose bill allowing female lawyers in court

[JURIST] Saudi Justice Minister Mohammed al-Eissa [ministry website, in Arabic] announced Saturday that women will be allowed to argue cases in court under a new law that his department is drafting. The law is expected to be issued in the near future and would allow female lawyers to represent [Arab News report] other women in cases related to family law, such as child custody, marriage, and divorce. The new law would also allow women to perform other legal functions without presenting witnesses, such as preliminary procedures with notaries, authorizing corporate contracts, registering properties, and mortgaging real estate. Eissa described the new law as part of an ongoing judicial reform undertaken by King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz [BBC profile] aimed at developing the legal system, which would also lead to the creation of specialized family courts for women to practice in. Currently, female lawyers are not allowed to practice [Al Jazeera report] before the Saudi judiciary, which is comprised solely of male religious clerics. The Saudi legal system [GlobalLex overview] is based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law, which enforces gender separation. Under this system, female lawyers work in designated sections of law and governmental offices designed to eliminate their interactions with the opposite sex.

Eissa was appointed [CEIP report] as justice minister last February as part of a larger government reorganization undertaken by Abdullah, which included the replacement of the heads of the education, health, and culture and media ministries, and saw the appointment of the first female deputy minister of women's education. In October 2007, Abdullah enacted a wide-ranging judicial reform bill [BBC report], creating new supreme, appeals, and general courts. The judicial reform also allocated two billion dollars to the construction of new court houses and the training of judges, who, before the reform, had wide latitude to rule according to their own interpretations of Islamic law and resisted the codification of laws or the idea of being bound by precedent. These reforms come after significant reforms of women's political rights in neighboring Kuwait, which has resulted in the enfranchisement of women in 2005, the appointment [JURIST reports] of Kuwaiti women to public office a month later, and the election [BBC report] of four women to the Kuwait National Assembly [official website, in Arabic] last June.

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