Saudi Arabia

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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, located in the heart of the Middle East, is the largest country in the Middle East and the birthplace of Islam. [1] The modern Saudi state was founded and unified in 1932 by Ibn Saud. King Abdallah, a descendant of Ibn Saud, currently rules the country. Saudi Arabia is known for producing oil and natural gas, and it is home to over 20% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The population of Saudi Arabia is just over 26 million. About 5.5 million people are non-nationals. The population is 90% Arab and 10% Afro-Asian. Islam is the country’s only religion. The population is young, with just 3% of the population over age 65 and a median age of 25.3. Life expectancy is about 74 years. The major cities are Riyadh (the capital), Jiddah, Mecca, and Medina. Most of the terrain is uninhabited, sandy desert. There are also great coastlines on the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, which are useful for shipping. [2]

Type of System

Saudi Arabia is a monarchy governed according to Sharia law, Islamic law derived from the Quran and Sunna that guides all aspects of Muslim life. [3] In 1992, royal decree created the Basic System, the fundamental constitutional document that articulates rights and responsibilities of the government. [4] The Basic System is complemented by other secular laws and organizations, including the Regional Law and the Consultative Counsel Law.The King is the ultimate authority, and there is also a legislative branch and a judicial branch of government.

The legal system is based on Sharia law. Following the 2007 royal decree to change the judicial system, the courts have become more modern and include multiple-judge courts and regular appeals. [5] The High Court is the highest judicial body. There are also Courts of Appeal which specialize in areas such as Labor, Commercial, and Criminal Circuits. Cases are first heard in the First Instance Courts.

Saudi Arabia does not have a penal code. Criminal offenses and punishments are determined by judicial interpretation of Sharia law, rather than based on written law. [6] Judges can issue death sentences for offenses against God, offenses against people as defined under Sharia, and on a “discretionary basis” for acts a judge believes merits the death penalty. [7]

Sources of Defendants' Rights

Despite declarations by the government that the criminal justice system adheres to high standards, defendants’ rights are systematically and fundamentally violated. [8] There is no penal code, therefore there is no way for residents or visitors to know what acts are considered criminal or what rights, if any, they have once accused. There is a criminal procedure code (created in 2002) called the Law of Criminal Procedure, but not all of the international standards for basic defendant rights are included in the document. For example, the code gives the prosecutor the right to issue arrest warrants and prolong pretrial detention periods without judicial review. Another example is that statements obtained from people under duress due to torture or undignified treatment are permitted in court.

Defendants' Rights


Defendants have few, if any, rights. Arrests without warrants, undignified treatment during interrogations, prolonged detention, no-notice trial sessions and verdicts, long delays in trials, and obstacles to challenging evidence plague the criminal justice system. It has been reported that police officers, and sometimes prosecutors, beat and threaten defendants to extract confessions which can be used against the defendant in trial. [9] There is no right to bail, and defendants can be held without being formally charged. [10]


Defendants are sometimes discouraged from hiring lawyers to represent them through judge intimidation and bans. To help fix this problem, the Shura Council approved the establishment of a public defender program in January 2010. [11] The defendant’s testimony is given great weight, although it takes the testimony of two women to equal that of one man. Trials are closed and lack juries. Consulate officials of foreign nationals on trial are not permitted to attend the trial of the foreign national. [12]


Defendants may appeal the decision to the Ministry of Justice or, for serious cases, a court of appeal. Sentences of death or amputation are heard by a panel of five judges. [13] For all death sentences issued on a “discretionary basis,” the Shura Council requires a unanimous decision among a five-judge panel at the appeals court. [14] The King has final review of all death sentence cases.

See Criminal Justice Systems Around the World