Vexatious lawsuits and how to curb them
The right to bring a lawsuit is guaranteed to everyone in Saudi Arabia, whether Saudi citizens or expatriates, and doing so is free of charge.
This freedom ensures access without discrimination to all the rights guaranteed by the law — but has it created an undue burden on the judicial system through vexatious complaints and malicious claims, the main goal of which is to exhaust the authorities and settle personal scores?
Vexatious and malicious complaints are when a plaintiff claims a right that he does not have and is not entitled to. The intent of such lawsuits is usually to harm and exhaust the defendant. Particularly in cases that involve honor and trust, they are unjust and ambiguous in their impact.
Such lawsuits are of course forbidden by Shariah, and prohibited under Saudi law; this states that once the malicious element of a complaint has been established, the case will be dismissed by the judge.
The vexatious claimant may be punished at the discretion of the judge, based on the damage caused by the claim and the overall circumstances. There is also a deterrent element to the punishment.
Moreover, if the aggrieved party has incurred financial loss as a result of the malicious action against him, he is entitled to claim compensation, and file a complaint against the vexatious accuser.
It is important to note that malicious and vexatious lawsuits may not be entirely buried. Even when they are of no legal consequence, the information they contain may be tracked, especially if it affects Saudi national security or interests.
Nevertheless, the Ministry of Justice is working hard to reduce the burden on the judicial system caused by vexatious complaints. One recent project aims to achieve a balanced judicial environment by imposing limits on cases before the courts. This would mean many cases being resolved through conciliation, even when the parties to the conflict did not consider this to be an option. This project does not conflict with the principle of free litigation; rather the hope is that some types of cases can be resolved directly and clearly without resort to law, thus easing the burden on judges.
Vexatious claims can lead to cases that many people may not know about, namely rehabilitation and compensation; in Saudi society, as in others in the Middle East, honor and dignity are important values that cannot be compromised or prejudiced.
Therefore, when the victim of a malicious lawsuit countersues his accuser for compensation, whether material or moral, the case may be deemed to be in the public interest and taken on by the public prosecutor at the request of the judge.
Fair and timely justice is the basis on which every society is built, and curbing vexatious and malicious lawsuits will contribute to achieving that goal.
Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif