How Qatar’s Investment and Commerce Court works in practice

Out-Law Analysis | 24 Jan 2023 | 9:18 am | 8 min. read

The Investment and Commerce Court (Investment Court) is making litigating in Qatar more efficient, helping to change perceptions that it takes a long time, is costly, and will be dogged by procedural delays.

At a time when Qatar is seeking to make itself a more attractive destination for foreign investors, the Investment Court, established in 2021, is building a reputation as a swift system of justice for commercial entities. Its strict compliance with its rules means that businesses can obtain a judgment in their case at the Court of First Instance in well under a year.

An insight into the way the court is working in practice can be gleaned from its handling of cases to-date.

Payment of fees

The registration of cases and applications and the payment of court fees is conducted online. This is helpful for being efficient, especially for international parties.

Payment of court-appointed expert’s fees are typically paid by the plaintiff paying a deposit into the Investment Court’s bank account, with the receipt lodged with the court in person or electronically. 

In our experience, in practice, the court will require advance payment of the expert’s fees prior to their appointment, at the time of registering the case. The court will estimate the expert’s fees for the purpose of advanced payment. The amount payable will depend on the nature and complexity of the report. 

For summary application cases, such as ‘status quo’ cases, the court typically determines the expert’s fees in the range of QAR 5,000 to QAR 15,000 ($1,362 to $4,085). In substantive cases the expert’s fees can be estimated between QAR 10,000 and QAR 30,000 ($2,723 to $4,085) depending on the complexity of the issues that an expert is being asked to give a report on.

At any time before the case is decided, a court-appointed expert may make a request to the court for their fees to be increased. The court has discretion as to whether to grant such a request, and the parties have the right to object, approve and/or request the court to decide. 

Service of the proceedings

Article 17 of Law No. 21 of 2021 establishing the court requires a plaintiff to provide the address of the defendant in the 'statement of claim’. The Investment Court will use this address, or the address held on the public database, for the purpose of the summons, which is served only once. This differs from previous protocols and has again given rise to improved efficiency, but also risk for parties that have not updated their public records when changing address.

Article 15 of Law No. 21 of 2021 also permits the court to serve notice “by any means it deems appropriate in accordance with the regulations set by the Council”, meaning a summons can be sent by text message on the defendant’s registered mobile number. As such, it is also important for companies in Qatar to ensure its registered corporate information – such as its landline, fax, mobile number and postal addresses – are up to date. This is especially true in circumstances where the period for submitting a defence is 30 days after receipt of the summons.  

Time pressure

The procedural timeline as set out in the legislation is far shorter than previous procedural timelines. Our experience is that these aggressive timelines are being respected by the court in practice. In summary:

  • Once a plaintiff files a statement of claim, the court’s case management office will serve the claim on the defendant within three days.
  • The defendant has to file its complete defence and counterclaim, if applicable, along with exhibits and translations where they are not in Arabic language, within 30 days.
  • The plaintiff has to file its response within 15 days.
  • The defendant has to file its reply within 10 days.

Parties can seek an extension to the above deadlines but these may not exceed 45 days. The revised court deadlines and the requirement to ensure all evidence is served at the outset, including translations, increases considerably the amount of legal analysis to be done before starting an action. It also increases the pressure on respondent litigants to take the action seriously and prevents delaying tactics from being deployed, which is most welcome.

Although a defendant is required to submit its complete defence including any counterclaim, within 30 days, in practice, if a counterclaim is submitted, the court often requests the defendant to register a new case which will generate a separate case reference number. One reason for this is to allow the plaintiff the full 30 days to file its defence to the counterclaim, since it would otherwise have to do so in the response submission, within just 15 days. The parties often subsequently request that the court consolidate the two cases.

Administrative issues

We have observed that plaintiffs may face some delay if their statement of case or response submissions include large volumes of documentary exhibits. The case management team may raise separate notices of rejection for individual issues, such as incomplete translations, lack of a recent company registration (CR) being included, or because the sheer volume of the documentary exhibits requires the plaintiff to seek an appointment to register the case in person rather than electronically. Whilst these delays may seem inconsequential, it can introduce risk for plaintiffs if the case involves a limitation period. Every effort should therefore be made to ensure the submission is high quality and without any errors if statutory limitation period issues are a concern.

No new evidence

One of the most significant changes introduced by the Law No. 21 of 2021 is Article 22. It provides that “none of the parties to the lawsuit may submit any new memoranda, documents, or claims, unless the Court allows the submission thereof for reasons it deems serious”. This is being respected in practice, in that the Investment Court has not been accepting further evidence or pleadings by a party after the date for the submission elapses, unless a party demonstrates legitimate and serious grounds exist. This has removed one of the most common methods of prolonging litigation under the old system and is most welcome.

Translations

The rule against supplementary or late evidence is particularly relevant in the context of translations. Many commercial contracts which the Investment Court is requested to consider by parties are in English language. Some contracts, and their appendices, are lengthy and complex, and their translation is a considerable exercise. 

Defendants are particularly affected by the need to get their evidence in order quickly, so that they have sufficient time to serve official translations. Parties to construction contracts are, in our experience, particularly affected by this change given the large volume of project records which make up the contemporaneous evidence.

Translation offices can take several months to deliver translations of lengthy construction contracts and project records. If a company is anticipating proceedings being started against it, and the proceedings would require significant and lengthy documents to be translated, it is advisable to engage in the translation exercise as early as possible.

Appointment of experts

After pleadings are submitted, the case management team transfer the matter to the nominated judge who decides whether to appoint expert(s). We are not aware of any delays resulting from the case management team’s processing of cases to-date.

We have observed that typically, if the plaintiff submits an expert report that it obtained from a status quo case, the court will usually decide the case based on the findings contained in that report and will not appoint a new expert to study the claims. It is therefore important for parties involved in cases where there is a question as to tangible progress, to consider a status quo application at the appropriate time. We have also observed that, given the efficiencies that have been introduced into the timeline, court appointed expert’s fees are lower in the Investment Court.   

Identity of the expert(s)

A helpful feature of the new law is that the Investment Court may appoint an expert which both litigants have agreed on, if there is such agreement. Parties are therefore now engaging in correspondence once a case has commenced to seek agreement on the identity of expert(s) which reflect the nature of their case, and are seeking to identify experts with excellent credentials, experience and reputation. The Investment Court will allow experts from outside of the court’s list of approved experts pursuant to Law No. 16 of 2017. This change has reduced the number of challenges raised in respect of the identity of the expert that the court has appointed. 

Language of expert(s)

Since parties may now choose the identity of their expert(s) it is feasible that the parties will seek appointment of a non-Arabic speaking expert. If this happened, the expert may conduct the meetings and produce a report in English. We have not yet handled or heard of a case where this has happened in practice and, as such, it is not clear what the court’s approach would be to such circumstances. However, in cases involving large volumes of documents in English – i.e. complex high value construction cases – it seems likely that the court will need to grapple with this scenario in the near future.

Independent expert reports

Article 26 of Law No. 21 of 2021 relates to expert reports of consultants appointed by a party directly – i.e., non-court-appointed experts. It states: “Any of the parties to the lawsuit may deposit electronically an expertise report before referring the case to the Court.  Any of the parties to the lawsuit may deposit that report, after the date of referral, with the approval of the Court.” In practice, during the pleadings stage, when the case is managed by the case management team, plaintiffs are submitting expert reports and the case management team is allowing the defendant to submit comments on it within 15 days.

When the case is referred to the specific judge or group of judges (circuit) and is out of the hands of the case management team, permission to submit a report from a third party will be subject to the approval of the judge or circuit which will hear the case.

Appeals

A party has 15 days to file an appeal before the Court of Appeal and 30 days to file an appeal before the Court of Cassation. This is half the time previously allowed and these shortened timescales mean that, in practice, close engagement between clients and their lawyers is essential – swift legal analysis of possible points of appeal is crucial to avoid missing the deadlines.

Filing an appeal before the Court of Cassation requires particularly careful and speedy management if the appellant is a foreign company. The appellant must get its original Power of Attorney and Articles of Association authenticated by the shareholders, if the entity is an LLC company for example, and by the relevant authority, such as the Qatari Embassy, and this can take considerable time. Failure to include these documents with its appeal may result in procedural challenges being raised.

Co-written by Mohamed Adam of Pinsent Masons.

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