Browsing 'justice' News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Adam Bermingham/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

A lack of Qatari judges, among other issues, is making it difficult for Qatar’s judiciary to operate independently and protect the human rights of all residents, a United Nations official has said in a new report following a visit to the country last year.

Currently, many judges who work here operate on temporary contracts and are recruited from other Arab countries – particularly Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan – to make up for the current lack of qualified and interested Qataris.

Gabriela Knaul

Peter Kovessy

Gabriela Knaul

That’s according to Gabriela Knaul, the UN’s special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, who is filing a 22-page report on her findings with the UN’s Human Rights Council in June.

She called the practice of hiring expat judges “far from common” in the rest of the world, as many countries have citizenship requirements for employment in the judiciary.

Knaul said she was not provided with official figures on the number of expat judges working in Qatar.

But she called the current situation problematic, pointing out that unlike their tenured national counterparts, expat judges must have their contracts renewed annually.

“Non-Qatari judges can be dismissed at any time, which renders them extremely vulnerable to pressures from any side, including from the public prosecution, lawyers and the executive,” Knaul said, although she conceded that no specific cases of suspect dismissals have been reported.

For now, she recommended that expat judges be given the same employment guarantees as Qataris.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

UAA Justice Center For Students

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

But in the long-term, she added that the number of non-Qatari judges should be progressively reduced and the judiciary completely nationalized.

Coincidentally, that same message was delivered today by Peninsula columnist Rabia Bin Sabah Al Kuwari:

“Remaining silent about the appointment of non-citizen judges and the reliance on judges from other countries, particularly Arab nations, is something that should stop,” he argued.

In recent years, Qatar has seen some developments that suggest an improved justice system is in the works.

For example, in 2013, compensation packages for judges, prosecutors and judicial assistants were increased in part to motivate more Qataris to enter the country’s legal system.

It will also soon be easier for local residents to pursue a legal education in Qatar. Hamad Bin Khalifa University will launch the first juris doctor postgraduate degree program in the region this fall.

And Qatar University also plans to launch a graduate law program in September. The school will grant a Masters of Law degree to go along with its current Bachelor of Law program.

Villaggio trial delays

In her report, Knaul credited Qatar for allowing her to conduct her investigation as well as, more broadly, coming “a long way in a short time with respect to developing its justice system.”

But she nevertheless concluded that “it faces major shortcomings and challenges, which directly affect the delivery of justice and the realization of human rights.”

Lower criminal court in Doha

Shabina S. Khatri

Lower criminal court in Doha

Specifically, Knaul questioned the independence and impartiality of the court system, highlighting the murky demarcation of powers between the judiciary and executive branches of government.

That leaves the legal system open to political interference, as well as an anecdotal perception that Qataris and foreigners are treated differently under the law, she said.

She also said she was “seriously concerned” about how several recent high-profile cases have been handled, such as the ongoing Villaggio Mall fire appeal.

Knaul said hearings in the slow-moving case are often postponed “without clear and fair justification,” such as when defendants – who were sentenced to prison terms in the earlier criminal trial and placed under a travel ban – fail to show up to court when summoned.

“Such endless postponements are unacceptable,” she said. “The result of the lack of due process followed in this case is to deny victims their right to an effective remedy. It also robs them of the possibility to come to closure with their loss.”

In her list of 37 recommendations, Knaul called on Qatar to take “urgent measures” to prevent delays in court proceedings and avoid postponing hearings unless they can be justified on “reasonable grounds.”

Other suggestions included improving access to the legal system for low-income workers, increasing the number of women in the judiciary, creating codes of conduct for lawyers and prosecutors as well as creating clear, objective and transparent criteria for the hiring of judges so that they are selected solely on merit.

Here’s the full report:

Thoughts?

Appeals court

Shabina S. Khatri

Appeals court

With reporting from Riham Sheble

As the population climbs and the number of court cases in Qatar continues to build up, legal experts have been working on finding new ways to clear the ensuing trial delays and backlogs.

For years, witness no-shows, last-minute requests for evidence and other tactics have been drawing out court cases in Qatar.

On average, it takes between one to two years for a case to be heard and a verdict rendered, according to local lawyer Yusuf al-Zaman. But the appeals process after a lower court’s ruling can drag on for five years or more, he added.

Prolonged trials can financially debilitate some individuals, while causing others to lose faith in the legal system, al-Zaman said.

“Delayed justice is a form of injustice,” he said.

Several of the high-profile trials currently taking place in Qatar illustrate the lawyer’s point.

Omar Chatriwala

File photo

Recent hearings of the long-running Villaggio Mall fire appeal have been marked by frustration from the relatives of the victims, including one who stormed out of a December hearing in protest.

Meanwhile, family members of murdered American teacher Jennifer Brown have said they are having trouble paying for legal representation in Qatar as the trial of her accused killer inches along more than two years after her death.

The Qatar government is in the midst of revising laws that regulate certain court procedures, which some lawyers see as an opportunity to address issues that cause cases to become bogged down.

There’s also been talk of creating new courts specializing in certain legal areas – such as commercial law cases, for example.

Members of the Qatari Lawyers Association met late last month to discuss the new draft law and proposed several measures aimed at speeding up hearings.

Proposed solutions

The growing volume of cases coming before Qatar’s courts is one reason trials take so long, lawyers say.

As the country’s population increases and the economy diversifies, more criminal and civil disputes are bound to emerge. According to al-Zaman, 67,552 cases were heard before the country’s courts in 2008.

By 2013, that had climbed 20 percent to 81,169 cases, he said.

Lower criminal court in Doha

Shabina S. Khatri

Lower criminal court in Doha

There’s also been a “recognizable” increase in the number of judges alongside the growing caseload.

But lawyers at last month’s session implicitly admitted that many delays come from within their own ranks.

Currently, lawyers are permitted to submit evidence or other supporting documentation at any point during the course of a trial as long as a date for closing arguments has not been set.

This creates delays as lawyers request more time to put forward evidence, which in turn can force judges to postpone cases to ensure everyone has sufficient time to review the new material.

Lawyer Ali al-Khanji, who was previously the deputy chairperson of Qatar’s Court of Appeal, said the mechanism is being used improperly:

“It is a privilege that is abused by opponents in a lawsuit in order to spite each other (and) stall proceedings … (It also) means that one party does not know what the other party has in store for them all through the legal process.”

He suggested making it mandatory for a plaintiff to file all relevant and available documents to the court registry at the onset of the legal process. Similarly, al-Khanji said the defendant should submit all documents by the first hearing.

This would ensure that both parties are full prepared early on in the trial.

Members of the lawyers’ association also discussed the problem of absenteeism among witnesses summoned to appear in court.

Acknowledging that it was sometimes difficult to discern whether the individual had received the notification that his or her presence was required, Al-Khanji suggested that the court start contacting witnesses via email and SMS messages.

The government’s timeline for implementing reforms remains unclear.

Thoughts?

justice

UAA Justice Center For Students

The vast majority – or 80 percent – of claims lodged in Qatar’s courts in 2013 were cleared the same year they were filed, according to new government figures.

The data was reported by QNA yesterday, which cited an annual statistical statement released by the Supreme Judicial Council.

The report isn’t currently available online, but according to QNA, decisions were made on 66,020 of the 81,169 cases brought before all courts in 2013, including the lower criminal court and Court of Cassation.

Doha court

Shabina S. Khatri

The states news agency added that the number of criminal cases brought before the courts went up only marginally from 2012, by 2,432 cases, for a total of 48,648 cases.

Other claims, including civil lawsuits, labor litigation and “urgent cases” comprised the majority of the remaining cases.

According to the statement, cases cleared by the courts during the summer months of July – September also went up, with rulings made on 6,923 claims – an increase of 1,823 from 2012.

Despite the higher caseload, the court appeared to maintain the same 80 percent clearance rate it had in 2012, according to the Peninsula.

Judicial changes

The high clearance rate comes as Qatar faces significant pressure from internal and external groups to revamp its judicial system, which was formed a quarter century ago when the population was less than a million people.

In 2012, prominent lawyer Yusuf Al Zaman said:

“What worries legal circles is the delay in dispensing justice as court proceedings are taking much (more) time and cases are taking longer than expected to decide.”

He added:

“So many changes have taken place…since (1990), with the population…having literally exploded…there is the need to amend the procedure codes to make sure they help the laws and the judicial machinery cope…with the developments.”

The United Nations also appears to favor change.

During a weeklong visit to Qatar last year, Gabriela Knaul, the UN’s special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, said that courts here needed to make a clearer distinction between public and state interests.

Gabriela Knaul

Peter Kovessy

She added that she had received information showing powerful politicians and large businesses meddling in cases and influencing prosecutors.

Knaul’s full report has yet to be released, but she did make some recommendations during the end of her visit.

These included establishing a code of conduct and ethics for judges, appointing more female judges, implementing modern methods of recording court minutes, making documents related to proceedings and cases available in English and waiving court fees for individuals who could not afford them.

Knaul also called for the creation of an independent and self-regulating bar association that would monitor judicial proceedings, appointments, and minimize the influence exerted by external parties.

Thoughts?