The Board of Grievances, a tribunal directly linked to the king462 and whose judges the king appoints and fires, has jurisdiction to hear complaints filed by private citizens. These complaints can include unlawful administrative decisions (though not injuries suffered as a consequence) and violations of Saudi laws, including suits for compensation as a result of injury suffered from such violations. 463 There is a rather broad exception, however. The Board may not hear cases where the ruler invokes sovereign rights, even if there appears to be a violation of a law.464 In addition, the Board decides contractual disputes where the government is a party.
Under a new Law on the Board of Grievances promulgated on October 1, 2007, the Board lost jurisdiction over cases of bribery, embezzlement, and fraud. Otherwise, the new law continues the provisions of the old law.
However, the new law of the Board of Grievances structures the court differently, dividing the existing two tiers of trial and appeals chambers into three levels comprising the Supreme Administrative Court, the Administrative Appeals Courts, and the Administrative Courts. The new Board of Grievances law implicitly acknowledges rules of precedent for cases under its jurisdiction.465
The new Law of the Board of Grievances abolishes the Boards internal prosecution department, the Bureau of Supervision and Investigations, for cases against public employees, usually for embezzlement or abuse of power, or labor disputes, as well as three crimes regulated by statutory law against any person, regardless of whether he or she is a public employee: bribery, forgery, and impersonating a public official. Jurisdiction over these crimes has been moved to the new criminal courts of first instance. Under the old law complaints seeking disciplinary action against government officials were rare. In one recent case that resulted in prosecution, Arab News reported in March 2007 that the Board of Grievances in al-Juf sentenced five officers of the anti-drug department to 18 months after being convicted of misusing their power and allegedly beating to death a Saudi citizen.466
It remains unclear how a prisoner detained beyond the expiry of his or her sentence can file a grievance against the detaining authority. Under Article 13 of the new Law of the Board of Grievances, an administrative decision includes instances where the administrative authority refuses to, or abstains from taking a decision it should by law have taken.467 Under that definition, a prisoner could sue the prison authority or the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecutions for their failure to take the administrative decision to release him or her after the prison term has expired. The prosecutions internal Bureau Management Committee, however, retains disciplinary jurisdiction over its prosecutors. In situations where prosecutors fail in their administrative duty to release prisoners who are detained without any legal basis, the ability of a wronged prisoner to seek redress in the Board of Grievances conflicts with the powers of the Bureau Management Committee, which has sole power to discipline errant prosecutors.
Lawyer Ahmad bin Khalid al-Sudairi caused a stir when he sued the Ministry of Justice before the Board of Grievances over what he claimed were unlawful articles of the Executive Regulations for the Law on the Procedure Before Sharia Courts. The minister of justice, in response, questioned al-Sudairis standing before the Board of Grievances. Lawyer Khalid Ahmad Uthman in turn argued that al-Sudairi had standing to challenge the lawfulness of the regulation because, as a lawyer, such regulations directly affect his work and his suit seeks to prevent harm resulting from its unlawful application. Such application, he argued, falls under the category of administrative decisions, and therefore the Board of Grievances has jurisdiction.468
Uthmans interpretation leaves open citizens challenges to a number of Saudi administrative decisions. Challenges to the constitutionality of statutory laws, however, are not possible as long as the ruler followed all required procedures in passing them. The Board of Grievances jurisdiction under its new law has yet to be tested.
462 Law of the Board of Grievances, Umm al-Qura Newspaper, issue 2918, May 22, 1982, art. 1 (unchanged in updated law of 2007).
463 Ibid., art. 8, (article 13 in updated law).
464 Ibid., art. 9 (article 14 in updated law). For an example of a human rights violation where the Board declined to hear a legal challenge, see Human Rights Watch, Letter to King Abdullah Regarding the Illegal Imposition of Travel Bans, February 9, 2007, http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/02/09/saudia15305.htm.
465 Law of the Board of Grievances, 2007, art. 11.e., published in al-Watan, October 3, 2007.
466 P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Security Officers Warned Against Abuse of Power, Arab News, March 14, 2007.
467 Law of the Board of Grievances, 1982, art. 8 (article 13 in updated law).
468 Khalid Ahmad Uthman, Al-Sudairis Law Suit and Judicial Review of Executive Regulations, Eqtisadiyah Newspaper, March 29, 2007.