Focus On Litigation – Part One: Qatar’s Legal and Court System
July 28, 2021
By: Michael Earley, Legal Manager
This article is the first 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 seeking to pursue a litigation claim through the courts of Qatar should seek professional legal advice prior to proceeding.
Qatar is a civil law jurisdiction and statutes promulgated by the Emir are the primary source of legislation. At this stage, Qatar does not have specialist courts for commercial matters and accordingly, all commercial claims are decided by the civil courts. The general court system is comprised of the following courts:
The Civil Court consists of the Partial and Plenary Courts. The Partial Courts hear claims the value of which are not more than QR 500,000, and the Plenary Courts hear claims the value of which exceed QR 500,000. Judgments of the higher court are not necessarily binding on the lower courts, and the concept of stare decisis is not recognised in Qatar (although higher court judgments are persuasive and are generally followed). This means that each case is usually decided on its own merits and specific facts, and the judge has the discretion to issue its own judgment on the case without necessarily deferring to past judgments of the higher courts on similar matters.
In addition to the Civil Courts, Qatar also established the following judicial committees to address specific types of disputes, including:
Judicial proceedings in Qatar follow the inquisitorial model whereby court proceedings are based entirely on the written pleadings of the parties and supported by the documentary evidence the litigants choose to submit to the court. Oral arguments are extremely rare in civil cases. Occasionally, the court may interrogate the parties to a case or the court-appointed expert to establish certain facts. However, even in these instances the courts will generally restrict any cross-examination. On the contrary, criminal cases are based on both oral arguments and written submissions. The Qatari courts do not have jury trials.
The Constitution of Qatar provides that hearings are held in public. However, only the litigants and their lawyers are permitted access to the court records, and the general public may not obtain copies of the case files or judgment (although sometimes judgments of the Court of Cassation delineating certain principles of law interpretation or application may be published). Furthermore, in certain extraordinary circumstances it may be possible to exclude the public from a hearing.
Proceedings before the Qatari courts are conducted in Arabic, and litigant documents written in a language other than Arabic, including evidentiary documents, must be translated into Arabic by a translator licensed by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
In particularly complex cases requiring specific technical expertise, a court may appoint an expert or a panel of experts to determine certain facts. Such areas of expertise include:
Although the expert’s report is usually persuasive, it is not binding on a court and the report’s findings may be challenged by the litigants.
The courts require that witnesses be independent, therefore employees, directors, agents, etc. of the parties will not be treated as witnesses and statements given by them have little to no evidentiary value.
Documentary discovery in Qatar is limited to only certain circumstances. Generally, a party may request that the court order a specific document be produced only if the document is identified by specific reference in writing and in detail, and the party seeking the document demonstrates that it is indeed relevant to their claim. A court appointed expert may also request the parties to produce certain documentation, but the expert does not have the authority to compel production without a court order.
Unsuccessful litigants have an inherent right to appeal judgments issued by the lower courts. Unless a specific provision in law stipulates a shorter period, a judgement by the Court of First Instance in a civil or commercial matter can be appealed in the Court of Appeal within 30 days of its issuance or as of the date of serving the judgement on the opposing party. Judgments of the Court of Appeal in a civil or commercial matter may also be appealed to the Court of Cassation within 60 days of the appeal judgment or as of the date of serving the judgement on the opposing party.
The Civil Code of Qatar (Law No. 22 of 2004) contains various time limitation periods for litigation claims. Generally, contractual claims are time-barred after the passage of 15 years from when the right arose, unless a specific provision in law states otherwise. A number of laws set out exceptions to this general timing rule, the details of which vary depending on the nature of the dispute/claim. For example, claims relating to cheques are time-barred after three years, claims of merchants are time-barred after 10 years, and claims related to employment are time-barred after one year. These limitation periods may be triggered either at the time the cause of actions arises, or after the termination or expiry of a contract.
Next Month: Focus On Litigation – Part 2 will address initiating litigation before the Qatar courts and other procedural matters.