Judicial Foundation and Legal Codification
The legal system of Qatar is based primarily on Shari’a legal principles, although it has been influenced by Egyptian legal traditions. In addition, the laws and decrees passed by the government of Qatar since independence in 1971 provide an important source of the law. Articles 130 and 131 of the Constitution of Qatar of 2003 provide for an independent judiciary whose organization and functioning are to be determined by law. Qatar does not yet have an extended codified body of law that governs all matters. The Civil Code and the Commercial Code are embodied in Law No. 16 of 1971, and the Criminal Code is represented in Law No. 14 of 1971. The Code of Civil and Commercial Procedure was drafted and published in 1972, but was never officially promulgated. Nevertheless, its general principles guide judicial decision-making in civil and commercial matters. The official language of the Qatari courts is Arabic.
Law No. 6 of 1999 supplanted Law No. 13 of 1971 as the statute governing the organization of the judiciary. The Law took effect in 2003, one year after its publication in the Official Gazette. Prior to 1999, Qatar had a dual judicial structure, composed of Shari’a and Civil Courts. Currently, these two systems are unified in a single structure.
Judicial Structure and Court System
The 1999 Law provides for a three-tiered judicial system. The Courts of Justice and the Shari’a Courts of First Instance occupy the base of the structure. The Courts of Justice are empowered to hear civil, criminal, and commercial matters while the Shari’a Courts try cases involving personal status. Decisions made in these courts may be appealed to the Appeal Court of Justice and the Shari’a Court of Appeal. The Court of Cassation is the third tier of the judicial system. Qatar has established a “Family Court” to hear and determine family and inheritance disputes. The Court abides by the “Family Law” promulgated by the Emir Sheikh Hamad Ben Khalifa Al-Thani on June 29, 2007.
Judicial Authority and Appointment of Judges
The 1999 legislation also created the High Judicial Council to serve as the authority of the judiciary and ensure judicial independence. The High Judicial Council is composed of the Head of the Court of Cassation, head of the Shari’a Court of Appeal, head of the Court of Appeal, head of the Shari’a Court of First Instance, and two senior jurors from each of the Court of Cassation and Shari’a and ordinary Courts of Appeal. The High Judicial Council is empowered to suggest legislation concerning the judicial system and give opinions to the Emir regarding the appointment and careers of jurors.
The 1999 Law created the Court of Cassation to serve as the court of final appeals. Article 5 of the Law asserts that the Court of Cassation is presided over by a president, one or two deputies, and sufficient additional jurors to form two-judge chambers. There is one chamber for Shari’a cases and one to serve as the appellate court for Court of Justice appeals.
Constitutionality of Laws – Judicial Review
On June 18, 2008 Sheikh Hamad ratified Law No. 18/2008 for establishing the Supreme Constitutional Court, to be effective in October 2008. The Court is an independent judiciary body with independent budget. It consists of a president and 6 members appointed by an Emiri Decision. Its main jurisdiction lies in determining the constitutionality of laws and regulations, and settling contending claims pertaining to the jurisdiction of different judicial bodies. Its rulings, decisions and interpretations are final and binding to state authorities as well as to others.
Judicial Education and Profession
The practice of law is governed by the Law No. 20 of 1980. Qatari citizens and citizens from other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states with the appropriate legal qualifications are entitled to practice law in Qatar. Foreign law firms from outside of the Gulf region are not permitted to set up autonomous law firms or practice as legal consultants in Qatar, however foreign firms and lawyers may form associations with Qatari firms.