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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

UN rep: Qatar judicial system faces ‘major shortcomings and challenges’

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.
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
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.
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
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?

21 COMMENTS

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SullyofDoha
SullyofDoha
6 years ago

Wow, bringing in judges from Sudan. I hope I never have to be summoned to court in Qatar! Plus the fact that these import judges have to have contract renewel opens up all kinds of perceptions when officiating cases 🙁

johnny wang
johnny wang
6 years ago
Reply to  SullyofDoha

Exactly

MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago
Reply to  SullyofDoha

Probably a bit of an unfair comment, Sudan used to have an excellent education system adopted from the British that produced highly skilled graduates in many fields. However since independence a succession of stupid governments in Sudan have destroyed the old system and many of the highly skilled Sudanese have left the country.

Nuremburg
Nuremburg
6 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

Asian/African migrant labor took a dive when Qatar began relying on Egyptian labor and attempted to replicate its education system in the early 1960s. Honestly, even today, most Qatari schools are staffed almost entirely by Egyptians. That doesn’t leave much room for Sudanese or even Qataris in highly skilled professions.

Win
Win
6 years ago

One cant help but say, ‘Justice Is Blind’ in Qatar …. LITERALLY !

DohaGold
DohaGold
6 years ago
Reply to  Win

Just look at the illustrative photo at the top of the article! The eyes of the person are covered!

MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago
Reply to  DohaGold

They are supposed to be, implying that cases are judged on their merits not on who the person is standing in front of the judge.

thedrizzle96
thedrizzle96
6 years ago

Amazing insight, and no actual evidence to corroborate claims, just perceptions. I think what gets me the most is that you have a high profile body, a high profile individual who is legitimately or otherwise given a role that could possibly make a real difference and a year later, this is the report? Like a first year consultancy project or something that could have been written by a DN commenter in an afternoon, essentially a collection of criticisms of the justice system with no real pragmatic or innovative approach to justice due to the unique environment in Qatar, you’d expect that someone charged with identifying ways to improve judicial systems GLOBALLY would bring a little something more to the table IMO

The Reporter
The Reporter
6 years ago
Reply to  thedrizzle96

As I wrote above the principles of how a judiciary operate are universal, and the criticism of Qatar’s is with reference to those principles. It doesn’t seek to solve the particular issues that prevent Qatar achieving an acceptable judiciary.

thedrizzle96
thedrizzle96
6 years ago
Reply to  The Reporter

I was commenting to her stated role in her position to “(c) To identify ways and means to improve the judicial system, and make concrete recommendations thereon;” And the aim of the report to address access issues; which are addressed in the sense that barriers to access are highlighted, concrete recommendations that consider the situationnal and regionally relevant findings, nope. If the goal is to provide a pathway to join an intrenational treaty or group, then it’s not really serving the interests of those that fall under the judicial system here. Fulfill these obligations and receive membership, and thus less pressure from international bodies, or am I missing something

CLGourmet
CLGourmet
6 years ago

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.
I have no words for this other than why would you outsource your judiciary?

A_qtr
A_qtr
6 years ago
Reply to  CLGourmet

10% of qatar’s population are qatari and over 50% of court cases do not involve qataris, so have judges from other part of the world isnt unexpected

dick
dick
6 years ago

So Ibn Battuta was a shocking use of a foreign judge (all over the place)? Ibn Khaldun should never have been a judge because he too was a foreigner….? Oh come on! Have none of you people ever bothered to study any Islamic history? ANY? At all?
The office of qadi has a very, very long tradition of going to those with expertise in law and jurispudence, no matter were they come from! Those I mentioned, well, Ibn Battuta was from Morocco and Ibn Khaldun from Tunisia. Imposing western notions of what a judiciary must be is just absurd.

The Reporter
The Reporter
6 years ago
Reply to  dick

I think the principles of what a judiciary should be are universal – it’s the laws that the judiciaries have to apply that are not.

thedrizzle96
thedrizzle96
6 years ago
Reply to  The Reporter

I’m not entirely convinced what you’re saying is accurate, care to expand on universal juduciary

JT
JT
6 years ago
Reply to  dick

That was before the rise of nation states.

hohum
hohum
6 years ago

Having been falsely accused of raping a 9 year old Qatari student, I can’t explain the absurdity of the system. Despite being found not guilty in both the criminal, and then in the appeals court, a civil court can then come to a conclusion that the family was within their rights to make an accusation still astounds me. I would love to see what would happen if a Qatari was falsely accused of such a crime… how would their accusers fair in a resulting defamation case?

The system is highly geared in favour of Qataries.

Joe
Joe
6 years ago

This comes as no surprise. In fact, the report was conservative in describing the Judicial system.
To put things into perspective, just compare the salary scheme of Judges v.s. That of Ministry of foreign affairs or the military.
Law degrees are “easily ” obtained from odd schools, lacking proper accreditation. Compromising the quality of judges and lawyers alike.

The Reporter
The Reporter
6 years ago

I haven’t read the report, but whilst agreeing that the judiciary process as demonstrated in many cases tramples on peoples right to speedy and transparent justice under the laws of the land, lets not forget that even if the process itself ran smoothly some of the laws of the land themselves trample on human rights – most notably on the freedom of conscience and speech, and no amount of reports by whatever international organisations seems able to change that.

Al Kohol
Al Kohol
6 years ago

Where are all the Qataris? The police is said to import foreigners, the court does and then we need to ask the question: where are all the Qataris? I would have no problem if they bring in people from other countries and those immigrate, become Qataris and then become judges. But why would you have expat-judges?

Nuremburg
Nuremburg
6 years ago

Apparently Qatar hires foreigners from Sudan, Egypt and Pakistan to fulfill almost all their employment needs, including appointing an Egyptian as “Director general of the Qatari government” (Hassan Kamal in 1962), comprising an almost entirely foreign front-line in the Gulf War, and naturalizing foreign athletes, so this comes as no surprise. I don’t know if its a case of not learning to be self sufficient or simply a population shortage. The local population would thrive if the government took it easy on the spoon feeding and reduced the incentives of sitting on the la-z-boy all day, though.

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