The courts in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have witnessed enormous developments to the administrative procedures in the past six months. Vision 2030 envisions a government with breakthrough E-platforms that will move all its operations online. In this article, we highlight the few steps recently taken in support of the vision that will impact commercial legal disputes from a practical standpoint, and eventually, the business affairs of any entity based on the ground in Saudi Arabia.

E-Summons & E-Notifications for court appearances

As per the powers defined under Article 13 of the Law of Procedure Before Sharia Courts (the "Law") granted to the Supreme Judicial Council (the "SJC"), the SJC issued its Circular No. 1020/T, dated 21 January 2018 which provides that Electronic notification is to be considered as legal notification including the following:

  1. SMS messages to mobile phone recorded with relevant authorities.
  2. E-mail to natural person/legal entity email, if the concerned person email address is stipulated in the contract or agreement concluded between or among the parties to the dispute, or in the parties/party's website or authenticated at any government authority.
  3. Notice sent to any E-mail accounts recorded with any government systems.

Moreover, Circular No. 1020/T provides for additional details to those provided by the Law and its Implementing Regulations that need to be included in notice and claim which includes the ID number and the party's Commercial Registration. The responsibility of providing such details is on the plaintiff. The use of above details has to be through system and services approved by the Ministry of Justice (the "MoJ"). This circular came into force on 26 January 2018.

Additionally, it is worth mentioning that the MoJ executed an agreement with the Saudi Post for delivering courts' notices for a fee payable by plaintiffs. Such notice is to be delivered to the National Address of the defendant

Online filing of court cases

The MoJ and Board of Grievances (the "BoG") courts do not accept claim in person or by hand and claims have now to be submitted electronically. Additionally, they have recently launched online appeal services; however from recent experience this service is not fully activated and operational yet at the date of preparing this update.

In addition to above-mentioned electronic services, on late 2017, the MoJ activated online services that include, but not limited to, the following:

  1. Online enquiries about submissions;
  2. Online enforcement application submissions;
  3. Enquiries about Power of Attorney ("PoA") and submissions of PoA requests;
  4. Enquiries about cases and hearing's appointment; and
  5. Enquiries about lawyers.

The release of court precedents & principles handbook

Recently, the MoJ Research Centre has published its first of kind a book that contains 2,323 judicial principles (the "Principles"). The Principles are classified into 58 chapters, 19 of which are related to commercial disputes. It has been reported that the Principles have been extracted through the review of 20 thousands judgments which had been issued during the last 47 years (between 1971 and 2015).

We also understand that the Research Centre intends to issue a second version that contains the full judgments and decisions referred to in the first version. The second version will be published in eight (8) volumes which contain the full judgments where the Principles have been adopted.

According to the introduction of the Principles, the Principles are supposed to serve as guidance to the courts in similar cases and unification of judgments where circumstances and facts are similar or identical. They should also assist judges, academics, consultants and lawyers to understand the highest judicial hierarchy's views on various subjects.

Generally speaking, it should be noted that the previous decisions of the courts and judicial committees of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are not considered to establish a binding precedent for decisions of later cases; however the Principles may be persuasive and assist in understanding courts' view on various matters and that consequently shorten disputes timeline and help the relevant courts and parties to resolving such disputes.

The launch of a BoG Supreme Court

The BoG has launched a Supreme Administrative Court, completing all administrative levels within its court system. In addition, the BoG formed two Supreme Court circuits to receive objections against the Court of Appeal decisions.

Dedicated bankruptcy circuits

The SJC decision No. 218/6/39 dated 8 January 2018 is considered to be one more step toward having a more organised and coherent judicial system by assigning special circuits to hear only commercial claims and disputes emerged as a result of applying the Bankruptcy Law. The assigned circuits are:

  1. Circuits in the Court of Appeal in Riyadh province, Makkah province, Madinah province and Asser province.
  2. Circuits in Commercial Courts and any general courts that have commercial circuit in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.

This decision came into force immediately and it is applicable to any claims and requests submitted after this decision came into force.

Bounced checks to be handled by Criminal Courts

In its efforts to strengthen the commercial papers and to provide the required protection to its holders, the SJC issued its Circular N0. 998/T dated 4 December 2017 which specifies that the Criminal Courts will have jurisdiction over Commercial Paper disputes relating to Public Rights which would normally result in either monetary penalties or imprisonment. Previously the Commercial Paper Committees had jurisdiction over such disputes.

Standardisation of legal fee claims

The Chairman of the General Court in Riyadh issued internal Circular No. 554386/39, dated 29 October 2017 where it requested judges to address attorney's fees evaluation directly to the Saudi Bar Association as a house of expert.