This country-specific Q&A provides an overview of Litigation laws and regulations applicable in Qatar.
What are the main methods of resolving commercial disputes?
Litigation historically has been the main method of resolving commercial disputes, but over the past 3-4 years arbitration has become increasingly common in resolving many disputes involving commercial matters.
What are the main procedural rules governing commercial litigation?
The rules provided for in Law No. 13 of 1990 promulgating Civil and Commercial Procedure Law and its amendments are the main procedural rules governing commercial litigation.
What is the structure and organisation of local courts dealing with commercial claims? What is the final court of appeal?
Qatar does not have specialist courts and accordingly, all commercial claims are decided by the civil courts. The general court system is comprised of the following courts:
The Court of First Instance (which are subdivided into the Criminal Court, the Civil Court, the Administrative Court and the Family Court);
The Court of Appeals (which is similarly subdivided into the Criminal Court, the Civil Court, the Administrative Court and the Family Court); and
The Court of Cassation (which is the final court of appeal, but it only considers issues related to misapplication of the law, rather than mere factual issues.)
The Civil Court consists of the Partial and Plenary Courts. The Partial Court hears claims that are not more than QR500,000), while the Plenary Courts hear claims of more than QR500,000 (as per Law No. 3 of 2019 on the Amendment of the Civil and Commercial Procedure Law).
Further, Qatar established the Labour Disputes Committee at the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour, and Social Affairs. This Committee now deals with all labour cases arising under the Qatar Labour Law. This represents the stage of Court of First Instance.
There is also the Rental Dispute Settlement Committee that hears disputes arising from most of lease agreements as identified in Law No. 4 of 2008 regarding Lease of Properties. This represents the stage of Court of First Instance.
Unsuccessful litigants have an inherent right to appeal judgments issued by the lower courts. A judgement by the court of first instance can be appealed in the Court of Appeal. Judgments of the Court of Appeal are in turn appealed though only on points of law in the Court of Cassation, which is the higher court in Qatar.
Appeals of judgments on the basis of errors in both fact and law are permissible. Appeals to the Court of Cassation are usually made on the basis of an error in law.
How long does it typically take from commencing proceedings to get to trial?
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 as of 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.
Are hearings held in public and are documents filed at court available to the public? Are there any exceptions?
According to the Constitution of Qatar, hearings are held in public. However, only the litigants and their lawyers are permitted access to the court records, and the general public will not be able to obtain copies of the case file or judgment except some judgments that are published. Therefore, although proceedings are public, access to any case related materials remains confidential. Furthermore, in certain extraordinary circumstances it may be possible to exclude the public from a hearing pursuant to Law No. 13 of 1990, as amended, regarding the Law of Civil Procedure (Civil Procedure Code).
What, if any, are the relevant limitation periods?
Law No. 22 of 2004 promulgating the Civil Code of Qatar (Civil Code) contains various time limitation periods. Generally, claims are prescribed (time-barred) after the passage of 15 years from when the right arose, unless a specific provision in the law states otherwise. However, 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. In addition, there are several specific provisions dealing with time bars under the Commercial Code (Law No. 27 of 2006), the Maritime Law (Law No. 15 of 1980), and Customs Law (Law No. 40 of 2002).
For example, claims relating to cheques are prescribed after three years, claims of merchants are prescribed after 10 years, and claims related to employment are prescribed 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.
What, if any, are the pre-action conduct requirements in your jurisdiction and what, if any, are the consequences of non-compliance?
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.
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 QR100,000 or more, the fees will be QR3,000 (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 QR25,000 (QR5,000 as a non-refundable registration fee, while QR20,000 is a guarantee that can be refunded if the appellant wins the appeal), while claims before the Execution Court incur a fee of up to QR1,000.
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.
How are commercial proceedings commenced? Is service necessary and, if so, is this done by the court (or its agent) or by the parties?
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 as of which the exchange of submissions can commence. Court proceedings take place in a series of hearings which may last up to an hour or so. Normally, the application for registering a new case contains the address of the defendants.
Service is necessary; and any defendant in normal cases, will be served twice at the beginning of the proceedings. If a defendant does not respond to a lawsuit, or otherwise fails to appear after having been summoned by the court, then the court will issue a default judgment.
In some situations, the court will carry out the service process through its agents. In other cases, subject to the court’s discretion and decision, the court will permit or order a party to send the official notification to the opposing party. This will normally be done by post. Then, the party who sent the summons must provide the court with a document from the post office evidencing the issuance and delivery of the notification.
If the defendant is in Qatar, an officer of the court will serve the defendant with a summons, copy of the claim, and any supporting documentation that may be required. To evidence service the defendant will be required to sign a summons acknowledgement. Where personal service is not possible, the court can also publicly summon the defendant through a posting in the newspaper.
If the defendant is not located in Qatar, the court forwards the documents — through the Qatar Ministry of Justice and the Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs — to the Qatar embassy in the country in which the defendant resides. The summons will then be served on the defendant according to the local legal requirements regarding service of process.
How does the court determine whether it has jurisdiction over a claim?
The parties normally exchange their written submissions before the court addressing the procedural and substantive issues. The court may issue a decision on jurisdiction before considering the merits, normally if the jurisdictional issues are obvious; or it may proceed with hearing the merits of the case and the jurisdictional issues together, and issue its decision on jurisdiction at the end of the proceedings in the conclusive judgment.
How does the court determine what law will apply to the claims?
The court has wide discretion when it comes to 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.
In what circumstances, if any, can claims be disposed of without a full trial?
There are no such circumstances in the procedural rules applicable to commercial litigation in Qatar.
However, in certain circumstances related to time-sensitive matters and interim remedies, judges are allowed to issue orders and summary decisions without hearing the parties or conducting a full trial. However, such decisions are not related to the merits of the dispute, are not final and may be subject to appeals (in which there are full trials).
What, if any, are the main types of interim remedies available?
There are a wide variety of types of interim and injunctive relief, including [mainly]:
travel bans; and
However, such relief is rarely granted (in the absence of an enforcement deed) except in extraordinary circumstances.
After a claim has been commenced, what written documents must (or can) the parties submit and what is the usual timetable?
Civil and commercial 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 it 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 Law No. 13 of 1990 promulgating Civil and Commercial Procedure Law and its amendments setting general guidelines for the timeline, for the sake of avoiding delays. In practice in normal civil and commercial cases there are 2-5 weeks between each hearing.
What, if any, are the rules for disclosure of documents? Are there any exceptions (e.g. on grounds of privilege, confidentiality or public interest)?
There is no specific process of discovery or documentary submission requirements. The litigants will file their claims together with supporting documentary evidence with the court, but they are not required to submit documentation in their possession that may be adverse to their case. Therefore, the discovery process in Qatar is extremely limited.
However, there are rules in Law No. 13 of 1990 promulgating Civil and Commercial Procedure Law and its amendments in respect of ordering a party to disclose documents in their possession if the counter-party establishes the significance of such documents and their relevance to the case. Subject to the stipulated requirements and based on the court’s discretion, a party may be required to disclose the documents as decided by the court.
How is witness evidence dealt with in commercial litigation (and, in particular, do witnesses give oral and/or written evidence and what, if any, are the rules on cross-examination)? Are depositions permitted?
Commercial cases tend to proceed mainly on the basis of the documentary evidence submitted by the litigants. Furthermore, the courts require that witnesses be independent, and therefore employees, directors, agents, etc will not be treated as “witnesses” to the dispute, and statements of these parties have little or no evidentiary value.
As previously noted, neither oral testimony, nor even oral arguments from the lawyers, are generally admissible. Furthermore, even where a witness statement is filed in court, it carries little evidentiary value and is easily challenged or refuted by the opposing side.
Is expert evidence permitted and how is it dealt with? Is the expert appointed by the court or the parties and what duties do they owe?
Expert testimony is permitted at trial. However, testimony from an expert who has not been appointed by the court carries very little evidentiary weight. Expert testimony usually takes the form of an expert’s report.
Can final and interim decisions be appealed? If so, to which court(s) and within what timescale?
Most interim orders issued by the Judge of Summary Matters can be appealed before the Court of First Instance in seven (7) days as of the date of the order or as 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 related to 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.
What are the rules governing enforcement of foreign judgments?
Execution of foreign judgments in Qatar without a retrial on their merits is subject to the satisfaction of an objective criteria provided for under the Civil and Commercial Procedure Law. Further, Qatar is also signatory to international treaties between the Gulf Co-operation Council (“GCC”) Countries and Arab countries, for the enforcement of civil and commercial judgments. Articles 380 and 381 of the Civil and Commercial Procedure Law provide that the Court may not recognize a foreign judgment unless the following requirements are met:
the judgment is issued by a court of competent jurisdiction pursuant to the rules of international jurisdiction of the country in which the judgment was issued, and the subject matter of the judgment is not a matter which Qatari courts regard as being exclusively within their jurisdiction;
the party against whom the judgment is to be enforced was properly served/summoned and duly represented in the proceedings in the foreign jurisdiction;
the judgment has become final (res judicata effect) in accordance with the laws of the country where it was rendered;
the judgment does not conflict with a judgment that has been issued by a Qatari court; and
the judgement is not contrary to public policy or ethics in the State of Qatar.
Further, there is a requirement for establishing reciprocity in respect of the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments in Qatar.
Recognition of the foreign judgment is applied for through the procedure of filing a normal case before the Court of First Instance. Challenge against the recognition or non-recognition decision may be filed before the Court of Appeal and Court of Cassation.
After the recognition decision becomes final, the procedure for enforcement of domestic judgments are applicable to the recognized foreign judgment.
Can the costs of litigation (e.g. court costs, as well as the parties’ costs of instructing lawyers, experts and other professionals) be recovered from the other side?
The court, in its conclusive judgement, orders the losing party to bear the litigation costs (which normally includes the official fees for registering the case and any fees paid to court-appointed experts). However, in practice, litigation costs do not include the attorneys’ fees or translation costs.
In some instances, like when parties settle during the proceedings, the court orders costs to be equally shared between parties.
Normally, such costs are recovered/collected by the winning party at the enforcement stage.
What, if any, are the collective redress (e.g. class action) mechanisms?
Class or collective actions are not recognised in Qatar, and litigants are required to file each of their claims separately.
What, if any, are the mechanisms for joining third parties to ongoing proceedings and/or consolidating two sets of proceedings?
Concerned parties, whether as a means of support or based on contract or other legal basis or linkage, are permitted 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). However, the court has the power to decide on the joinder at an earlier stage. 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 it 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.
Are third parties allowed to fund litigation? If so, are there any restrictions on this and can third party funders be made liable for the costs incurred by the other side?
Although rare, it is possible to obtain third-party funding for most types of claim. In theory, third-party funding is available to both the plaintiff and defendant. However, the practice is very uncommon. Third-party funding is not specifically addressed in existing legislation and accordingly there are no specific timing requirements in that regard.
Determining the costs to be funded will ultimately be determined by the parties through private agreement.
In most cases, the litigants to a claim are required to pay their own respective litigation fees. The courts will usually only award court and expert fees, but not legal representation fees.
What, in your opinion, is the main advantage and the main disadvantage of litigating international commercial disputes?
The main advantage is related to costs as the official fees are very reasonable. The main disadvantage is the lengthy proceedings and the appeal routes. Further, a disadvantage would arise in respect of claims of a complex nature that require very sophisticated experts, who are rare amongst the experts registered with court. However, recently, a new law in respect of experts’ work (Law No. 16 of 2017 regarding regulating experts work), allowed international consultancy firms to register with the courts. This may enhance the quality of court-appointed expert’s work.
What, in your opinion, is the most likely growth area for disputes for the next five years?
As noted above arbitration is rising in prevalence as the dispute resolution procedure of choice. Based on the number of construction related disputes in the past few years, and those that are likely to arise in the future as more project near completion, it seems this trend is set to continue for some time.
What, in your opinion, will be the impact of technology on commercial litigation in the next five years?
Even prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 the courts in Qatar had started to introduce increasingly sophisticated technology to speed up the judicial process and the selection of court experts. Since COVID-19 the efforts to employ even more technology have accelerated considerably.
How have the courts in your jurisdiction dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic and have you seen particular types of disputes arise as a result of the pandemic?
A series of circulars and decisions has been issued for the suspension of court hearings before the Court of First Instance, the Court of Appeal, the Labour Disputes Resolution Committee and the Rental Disputes Settlement Committee and the Court of Execution since March 15, 2020. However, sessions at the Court of Cassation (the highest court in Qatar) will remain as scheduled. Further, Interim Matters Judges will continue to review and receive applications in respect of timely sensitive matters and set hearings for such matters. At the hearings before the Court of Cassation and Interim Matters Judges, the parties are mandated to take the precautionary measures into account, which includes wearing facemasks and gloves, and observing social distancing at all times.
Due to the suspension of court hearings and limiting the access to the court’s premises, most services in respect of filing cases, challenges and applications are accessible through of Supreme Judicial Council’s website and the online system for litigation, which have been in the development process. In the event the parties face any difficulties with the courts’ website, there are e-mail address for every court respectively in order for the parties to pursue any administrative requests and communicate with the competent court directly.
While court hearings are suspended, the courts remain open, and judges and clerks remain in duty with certain internal arrangements. However, individuals are not allowed to enter the court premises without a prior confirmed appointment with court clerks. Such appointment can be taken through sending a request to the respective court’s e-mail address indicating the necessity of the applicant’s request for a physical visit to the court premises. Companies and individuals are applying to the interim matter judges seeking precautionary orders (such as attachment orders and status quo cases) to protect their rights at the current situation.
There are no particular types of disputes observed clearly so far as a result of the pandemic, but parties are applying for interim measures and summary cases (such as attachment orders and status quo cases) these days in attempts to secure their rights in the current situation.
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