Focus On Litigation – Part Two: Litigation Proceedings
November 29, 2021
This article is the second in a series of articles focusing on litigation in the State of Qatar (“Qatar”) and providing high-level practical guidance and information on Qatar’s legal structure, court system, and litigation proceedings. Anyone wanting to pursue a litigation claim through the courts of Qatar should seek professional legal advice prior to proceeding.
A party seeking to commence commercial litigation before the courts of Qatar will need to follow the rules provided for in Law No. 13 of 1990 promulgating the Civil and Commercial Procedure Law (“Civil Procedure Code”) and its amendments, which are the main procedural rules governing commercial litigation.
Assuming a limitation period relating to a right has not passed, there are certain types of claims that may require notice to be served prior to initiating a lawsuit (such as a demand letter where the dispute relates to a debt). However, generally there are no formal pre-action requirements that all potential litigants must follow prior to submitting a claim before the Qatari courts.
Commencement of court proceedings is made through registering an application along with the initial case pleading. Upon registration of a case, the court sets a date for the first hearing during which the exchange of submissions can commence. The first hearing date usually falls on a date 3-4 weeks from the date of registering the case.
The proceedings are initiated by a litigant filing a claim in the relevant court office and paying any courts fees that may be required. Where the claim is for QR 100,000 or more, the fees will be QR 3,000 (which is the maximum amount of case registration fees for). The fees for smaller claims are usually calculated as a percentage of the value of the claim itself. Claims before the Court of Cassation incur a fee of QR 25,000 (QR 5,000 as a non-refundable registration fee, while QR 20,000 is a guarantee that can be refunded if the appellant wins the appeal), and claims before the Execution Court incur a fee of up to QR 1,000. The claim must (i) meet procedural requirements, (ii) include accurate names and addresses of the parties to the action, and (iii) include the factual details of the event leading to the claim.
The claim must:
- meet procedural requirements;
- include accurate names and addresses of the parties to the action; and
- include the factual details of the event leading to the claim.
Defendants are not required to respond to pre-action letters/notices.
Governing Law and Jurisdiction
With respect to the jurisdiction of the court, the parties normally exchange their written submissions before the court addressing procedural and substantive issues. The court may issue a decision on jurisdiction before considering the merits if the jurisdictional issues are obvious, or it may proceed with hearing the merits of the case and the jurisdictional issues together, and then issue its decision on jurisdiction at the end of the proceedings.
The Qatari courts will usually assume jurisdiction over Qatari nationals even if they are not resident in Qatar. The Qatari courts will also assume jurisdiction over foreign defendants where the dispute involves a contractual obligation executed in Qatar or involving assets in Qatar.
When considering the governing law of a claim, the court has wide discretion in determining which law to apply (the Civil Code or the Commercial Code) depending on the facts of the case. Normally, the court will apply Qatar law, unless a party alleges there is another foreign law applicable, and that party submits such law as duly attested and translated into Arabic.
Initial Claim And Proceedings
The initial claim usually takes the form of a memorandum setting out the names of the parties, the facts surrounding the claim, the value of the claim, and the legal basis on which a judgment should be awarded.
Civil cases are pleaded substantially on the basis of written submissions. In extraordinary cases where oral hearings or testimony are permitted, courts usually conduct these on the same scheduled hearing date, but do so after the end of normal proceedings. The court conducts the trial either in public or in chambers, but does not set a timetable or specified duration for that trial.
The parties can submit written memorandums and any relevant documents or exhibits, but these should be accompanied with a certified Arabic translation if the documents are originally in a foreign language. The court will grant adjournments and time for exchange of responses and submission of documents based on its discretion and depending on the nature of the case.
There are provisions in Civil Procedure Code and its amendments setting general guidelines for case timelines, for the sake of avoiding delays. In practice there are 2-5 weeks between each civil case hearing. However, this duration has changed multiple times since COVID-19 surfaced in Qatar. Depending on the number of infection cases and the precautionary measures taken by the government to combat the virus, the timeline between hearings can exceed 5 weeks.
The litigants are permitted to amend or file additional documentation at any time after filing the initial claim up to the stage where the court fixes a date for closure of pleadings.
There are a wide variety of types of interim and injunctive relief, including:
- attachment orders;
- garnishment orders;
- travel bans; and
- summary judgment.
However, such relief is rarely granted except in extraordinary circumstances.
Most interim orders issued by the Judge of Summary Matters can be appealed before the Court of First Instance within 7 days of the date of the order or of the date of serving the applicant of the order, depending on the situation as stated in the relevant provision.
Further, the Court of First Instance’s decision in the appeal regarding an interim order may be challenged further before the Court of Appeal. If an interim decision is issued by the Court of First Instance (such as decision on appointing a guardian over some assets), an appeal may be made before the Court of Appeal, within 20 days.
The Court of Cassation can hear further challenges, subject to it being related to errors in law, but rarely are such challenges filed in respect of interim matters.
Joining Third Parties
Concerned parties, whether as means of support, based on contract, or other legal basis or linkage, are permitted to join either the defendant or the plaintiff. However, such joinder will in most cases be affirmed during the course of the conclusive judgment at that stage of the case (i.e. a party will not know if the joinder was successful until the judgment phase of the case before a particular court, although a judge may decide the issue prior to the judgment phase).
The court has the power to decide on the joinder at an earlier stage if necessary. Parties are generally joined through a statement of intervention filed with the relevant court. Further, the court has the power to order a third party to be joined to ongoing proceedings in certain circumstances, based on its discretion. In such a case, the joined party must attend the court and that party may request to be excluded or removed. Also, a plaintiff or a defendant may apply requesting the court to allow the joining of a party that is legally concerned and related to the proceedings.
Next: Focus On Litigation – Part 3 will address enforcement, costs of litigation, and the impact of COVID-19.