Page last updated at 12:24 GMT, Sunday, 21 February 2010

Saudi women to be allowed to argue cases in court

Saudi women leaving a mosque
Women have often protested about their treatment

Saudi Arabia is planning to bring in a new law to allow women lawyers to argue cases in court for the first time.

Justice Minister Mohammed al-Eissa said the law was part of King Abdullah's plan to develop the legal system.

The law - to be issued "in the coming days" - would allow women to appear in court on family-related cases, including divorce and child custody.

At the moment, they can only work behind the scenes in government and court offices.

The new legislation will also allow Saudi women to complete certain procedures without the presence of a witness.

"In accordance with the new law, women will be able to complete their preliminary procedures with notaries by just presenting their IDs," said Ministry of Justice official Osama al-Mirdas, according to Arab News.

Under a system of male guardianship, Saudi Arabian women are required to be kept separate from men they are not related to.

All are veiled to a greater or lesser degree in public, they are not allowed to drive, and women under 45 must receive permission from a male when they travel.

Opportunities for education and employment are also dependent on male guardianship.

But a number of steps have been taken to ease restrictions - for instance women are now allowed to stay in hotels unaccompanied.

Last year, a senior cleric was removed after criticising a new mixed-sex science and technology university.

The cleric, Sheikh Saad al-Shethry, had described the mixing of sexes in any university as evil and a great sin.

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