Saudi Arabia's Shura Council (quasi-parliament) has passed a legislation to make amendment in the Criminal Procedure Law by which death sentence shall be carried out with a unanimous decision instead of the existing majority vote of judges.

An overwhelming majority of 92 members voted in favour of the new amendment, while a few members opposed it.

According to the amendment, the death sentence shall be executed only with a unanimous decision of the judges. At present, death sentence can be awarded with a decision of the majority of judges.

The amendment also says that any verdict issued by a lower court awarding death sentence or severing of hands or similar punishments shall not be executed without a verdict of the Supreme Court upholding it. The court decision shall be with a unanimous decision.

The Shura Council will conclude voting on the remaining clauses of the draft judicial laws after listening to the viewpoints of the subcommittees for Islamic, judicial and human rights.

January 12, 2010


Analysis and Forecast: Decreasing Risk

The Shura Council is Saudi Arabia’s parliament, although members are all appointed by the King. Its powers include proposing laws for the cabinet to approve, reviewing and amending draft legislation passed its way by cabinet and calling some ministers - in effect those who are not members of the royal family - to appear to explain policy.  Proposed laws are therefore very likely to reflect government policy.

The passing of the law controlling the death penalty and severing of limbs  - when finally approved, is another indication that the government is proceeding with its reforms. The law has been opposed by traditionalists saying that its provisions are contrary to Islamic teachings. However, the massive support for the law indicates a clear and strong drive towards modernizing the country’s judiciary. The carrying out of the death penalty is by beheading. Trials involving possible capital punishment are very secretive and have been subject to massive criticism by international rights groups.

The proposed change of procedure will therefore likely lead to fewer executions and move the country towards a more acceptable human rights record.