|Times Online - Why Qatar will be the
place to be this weekend
|May 26, 2009
Frances Gibb, Legal Editor
is putting on the Qatar Law Forum - a chance to hear about its new court and debate the rule of law, says
This weekend chief justices and other top judges from across the globe descend
on Doha in Qatar along with bankers, regulators, academics and lawyers. The topics of debate will be the rule
of law in the context of globalisation as well as the regulation of financial markets, trade and finance co-
operation and international dispute resolution.
With a line-up of heavyweight names from 15
jurisdictions including the Chief Justices of Hong Kong, India, South Africa and New Zealand, as well as
representatives from the World Bank, United Nations, Bank of England, Federal Reserve Bank of New York and a
host of others, the three-day Qatar Law Forum is a prestige event.
Why Qatar? The forum is
sponsored by the Government of Qatar, under the patronage of its Emir, and involves the Prime Minister. It has
been convened by Lord Woolf, the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and one of our High Court
judges, Sir William Blair (best known in legal circles as a leading banking lawyer although he cannot escape
the link with his better-known brother).
Both have been instrumental in developing a legal
framework for international commercial law in Doha under the Qatar Financial Centre. Lord Woolf is president of
the centre’s new civil and commercial court while Sir William is chairman of its regulatory tribunal.
The court, Lord Woolf explained, is primarily for the regulatory authority, from which it will
hear appeals as well as handling commercial disputes between companies. “It has been structured to ensure total
independence and it is staffed by Commonwealth judges,” he told The Times.
Qatar has its
own legal system and the court is “not in any way a criticism either of the courts exercising Sharia
jurisdiction or the ordinary civil courts, staffed largely by judges from Egypt and applying law derived from
the Code Napoleon.”
The new court and the regulatory tribunal will provide a legal
framework for dispute resolution that international parties are familiar with and standards they are confident
about using. The idea, Lord Woolf says, is to underpin Qatar’s growing standing in the legal and financial
international community and encourage companies to do business there.
The UK judges on the
court include Lord Cullen of Whitekirk, Sir Philip Otton, Sir Peter Gibson, Barbara Dohmann, QC, and Michael
Sackville, QC. Lord Woolf’s own contribution will be to sit up to four weeks a year.
taken aback, he admits, when approached to take on the task. “Being Jewish, I didn’t think that they would have
approached me. But they pointed out that this would actually be an advantage.
“I hope that
it will set standards that are really world-class in the resolving of commercial disputes. Starting from
scratch we have been able together to mould it to meet the needs of business. It won’t compete with local
courts. It will provide something completely different — international dispute resolution by a court.”
At present the building for the court is temporary but it will, in due course, have state-of-
the-art IT. It has already heard its first case: a petition presented by the Qatar Financial Centre Authority
for an order that Silver Leaf Capital Partners LLC be wound up on the ground that it could not meet its
commitments and that winding up was therefore “just and equitable”.
The forum this weekend
will be a chance for the international legal and business community to hear about the court and tribunal. But
it will be more that mere profile-raising: it will provide an opportunity for today’s legal issues to do with
the rule of law to be debated within the context of the Middle East and Islam, with sessions also on Islamic
finance and on the law and women. There are quiet hopes for less obvious bridge-building over Sharia and the
West, enabling moderate voices, as one lawyer put it, to prevail.