Four Saudi Arabian women became the first female lawyers to receive legal licenses Sunday, permitting the women to practice law for five years. Women with law degrees had been able to work as legal consultants but were banned from practicing law in courtrooms or operating law firms. Female lawyers were not allowed to practice before the Saudi judiciary, which is composed solely of male religious clerics. Under the new policy [SMH report], both women and men seeking a legal practice license must have a university degree in law and three years of training.
This is not the first time Saudi Arabia has attempted to reform its position concerning female lawyers. In 2010 Saudi Justice Minister Mohammed al-Eissa proposed [JURIST report] that women would be allowed to argue cases in court under a draft law that was expected to be issued that would have allowed female lawyers to represent other women in cases related to family law, such as child custody, marriage and divorce. In October 2007 King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz [BBC profile] enacted a wide-ranging judicial reform bill, creating new supreme, appeals and general courts. The judicial reform also allocated two billion dollars to the construction of new court houses and the training of judges, who, before the reform, had wide latitude to rule according to their own interpretations of Islamic law and resisted the codification of laws or the idea of being bound by precedent. These reforms come after significant reforms of women's political rights in neighboring Kuwait, which has resulted in the enfranchisement of women in 2005, the appointment [JURIST reports] of Kuwaiti women to public office a month later and the election [BBC report] of four women to the Kuwait National Assembly that June.