Recent Changes in Court Filings Due to COVID-19
Richelle Segura and Aysha Al-Ansari
It is undeniable that COVID-19 has resulted in significant changes being made to the way courts, arbitration centres, and dispute resolution systems all over the world operate. Courts in different jurisdictions, as well as, arbitration centres, have needed to devise digital solutions to ensure continuity of operations in the judicial sector, amidst lockdowns and varying degrees of COVID-19 restrictions. These solutions include but not limited to online filings and virtual hearings.
In Qatar, the Supreme Judicial Council has launched a website known as “Al-Mahakem” [https://www.sjc.gov.qa/ar/Pages/default.aspx], an online portal, through which all cases must be filed and registered. With this new digital approach, no action can be initiated or appealed personally before Qatar courts anymore, except in very limited cases and in extraordinary circumstances.
To initiate a new case or file an appeal, the appointed lawyers are tasked to complete and submit a court application form through Al-Mahakem. The completed application form must be uploaded in the portal together with: (i) a copy valid and up-to-date ID (for individual parties) or commercial registration certificates, certificates of incorporation, or any equivalent corporate documents (for corporate entities); (ii) copy of valid and up-to-date immigration cards (also known as computer or establishment cards) for corporate parties that are registered in Qatar; (iii) details of the last known address/es of the defendant/s for notification purposes; and (iv) copy of valid power of attorney issued in favour of the plaintiff’s legal representative. For appeals, a copy of the Court of First Instance decision which is sought to be appealed or minutes of judgment should also be submitted.
These documents are the basic requirements in order to register a new case or an appeal virtually. However, depending on the nature of the matter, the court may later on request additional documents in order to act on the case.
Once the documents are uploaded in Al-Mahakem, the application will be marked with an “under review” status. The review process takes approximately one to two weeks. When the application is accepted, the lawyers will receive a response through the portal informing them of the required payment of court fees. Upon payment through the system, an automatic receipt will be issued indicating the case number and first hearing date. If the application is rejected, the lawyers will receive a notification of rejection and the reasons for the same. This will then allow the lawyers to make the necessary rectifications based on the reasons given for the rejection. Rejections may be due to incomplete documentation, expired corporate documents, registration before a wrong court circuit, etc.
Although the new online system is aimed at limiting personal and paper filings, there are still exceptional instances when physical filing may be allowed. In one case, Al-Mahakem rejected an application due to the plaintiff’s expired commercial registration certificate. However, since the plaintiff is under liquidation, its corporate document can no longer be renewed. Thus, there is no way for the online portal to accept the documents being submitted. In this case, the lawyers had no choice but to physically appear before the courts to explain the unusual situation and the court accepted the physical filing on this basis.
Al-Mahakem covers the procedures before Court of First Instance and Court of Appeals, but does not extend to appellate actions related to rental and labour disputes. Considering that the Rental Dispute Committee and Labour Dispute Committee are independent of and not connected to the Court of Appeals’ system, appeals before these bodies cannot be registered and filed under the digital platform, and should still be made by paper or physical filing.
With this recent electronic filing service, lawyers are now permitted to conveniently file claims and appeals without physically appearing before Qatar courts. This permits lawyers to file several cases from their offices, without traveling from one court to another. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that lawyers are encountering difficulties in filing through the online system as the platform has not taken into account factors that are beyond ordinary circumstances. For example, an application will be denied if immigration or establishment cards are not uploaded, without having regard for parties that are domiciled in foreign jurisdictions and which do not have an equivalent corporate document.
Although Al-Mahakem presents great potential in pioneering e-filing services within Qatar’s judicial sector, it still needs further improvement. We are expecting this online method, once fully optimized, could be time and cost effective for both lawyers and clients.
About Al-Ansari & Associates
Al-Ansari & Associates is a leading law firm based in Doha, the State of Qatar. Being the fastest growing firm in the State of Qatar, we are proud to have supported both local and international clients with multi jurisdictional qualified lawyers. The firm’s practice is focused on core areas such as corporate and commercial, Banking and Finance, regulatory and compliance, Labour and Employment, TMT, Intellectual Property and Copyright, Real Estate and Contraction, Energy and Natural Resources, Transport and Infrastructure and Dispute Resolution. Al-Ansari & Associates provides its clients legal expertise with international standards.