A new constitution was approved by referendum on April 30, 2003, and promulgated, replacing the provisional constitution of 1970, to take effect on June 9, 2005. Sheikh Hamad bin Jasem, deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, said that "the democracy provided by the constitution means rule of law and a consultative council with greater powers. The powers of the Emir and the executive branch will be reduced in favor of the consultative council and the judiciary." The new constitution differs significantly from the previous document, in that it grants new rights and freedoms to the citizens and increases their participation in the government of the country. Both documents declare Qatar to be an independent and sovereign state with executive powers vested in the Emir. The Emir is the head of state and the minister of defense. He appoints the prime minister and the cabinet. The Advisory Council has been an appointed body since 1970, but the new constitution envisions elections for two-thirds of its members. The Emir selects the crown prince from among his sons.
Separation of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Powers
The 2003 constitution specifies that the system of government is based on the separation of powers. Executive power rests with the Emir and the council of ministers. Legislative authority will belong to the Advisory Council, and judicial authority is exercised independently by the courts in the name of the Emir.
The Emir represents the State in all internal and external affairs. He is responsible for developing State policy in consultation with the council of ministers. He can summon the council of ministers to session and has authority to establish and organize the ministries represented therein. The Emir can also establish other consultative bodies to aid him in developing and implementing State policy. The constitution gives the Emir the right to call for a referendum on important issues in the interest of the State, the results of which are binding.
The Emir can issue decrees with the force of law when the Advisory Council is not in session; such decrees are subject to approval by the Advisory Council and can be overturned or returned for amendments by a two-thirds majority of the council when it convenes. The Emir may declare martial law by decree in exceptional cases to be specified by law. Such a decree must explain the circumstances prompting its issue and the measures taken to rectify the situation, and must be provided to the Advisory Council within 15 days or at the Council’s first meeting after the decree. The duration of martial law must be limited, and can only be extended with the approval of the Advisory Council. The Emir may also declare defensive war; offensive war is not permitted.
The Advisory Council is to consist of 45 members, 30 of whom are to be elected by direct, secret ballot. The Emir appoints the remaining members. The Advisory Council elects a Speaker and Deputy Speaker. Members must be native Qataris at least 30 years of age. Any member can propose legislation to the relevant committee of the Council. Draft laws must be referred to the government for study, and must be returned to the Council during the same session or at the beginning of the following session. The government may also propose laws. Once passed by the Council, a bill is sent to the Emir for ratification, and he may return it for reconsideration. After being returned to the Council, a bill can be passed with a two-thirds majority, in which case the Emir must promulgate it, but he may suspend its enforcement in compelling circumstances.
The Advisory Council reviews the draft budget and may amend it. No budget comes into force without the Council’s approval, and in the case that no budget has been approved at the start of the fiscal year, the previous budget remains in place. Advisory Council members may address a point of clarification to the Prime Minister, and one-third of the members of the Council may address an interpellation to the ministers of the government. A vote of no confidence may be taken for individual ministers only within ten days following an interpellation, and if it passes with a two-thirds majority, the minister is removed from his post. Individual council members are provided immunity, except in cases of grave crimes. Immunity can only be lifted by a majority vote of the members of the Council.
The family is defined as the basis of society, and is to be provided the protection of law. According to Article 22, the State must protect young people from corruption and exploitation. The State is to foster education, public health, arts and sciences. Private property is inviolable, and the State is to guarantee freedom of economic enterprise and to encourage investment. Natural wealth and resources are the property of the State, and the State is charged with preserving the environment.
According to the Constitution, the citizens of Qatar enjoy equal civil rights and responsibilities without discrimination on grounds of race, language, religion or gender. Laws cannot be applied retroactively and no sentence may be passed except under the force of an ownership. Rights of privacy and personal freedom are guaranteed; torture is forbidden. Articles 44 and 45 provide the right of assembly and the right to form associations to all citizens in accordance with the law. A suspect is innocent until proven guilty and is entitled to a fair trial. Civil liberties include the right of residence and the freedom of the press and publication. Extradition is prohibited, and citizens may not be exiled. The Constitution requires all living in the country to observe public order and respect public customs and morals. A crucial clause from the 1970 constitution allowed rights to be circumscribed where these rights contravened the law or the public interest; this provision is absent from the 2003 constitution.
The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani has ratified on June 18, 2008 Law No. 12/2008, which provides for the establishment of a Supreme Constitutional Court. The law goes into effect in October 2008. Article (1) stipulates that this court is an independent judicial body with an independent budget. Article (2) stipulates that The court is to consist of a president and six members who are appointed by an Emiri Decision, while the Court's president holds the status of a minister.
Constitutional Amendments and Procedures
The Emir or one-third of the members of the Advisory Council can call for an amendment to the constitution. Such an amendment is passed by a two-thirds majority of the Council and must be approved by the Emir. An amendment that is rejected cannot be proposed again until one year has passed. Provision regarding the rule of the State and its inheritance cannot be amended, nor can the functions of the Emir be amended during his deputation. No amendment can be made that restricts rights and liberties granted by the constitution. The constitution cannot be amended until ten years have passed from the time of its entry into force.