Mediation is a dispute resolution process that has not been previously covered under any domestic law in Qatar. Prior to the new law, mediation has been briefly referred to in the Labor Law No. 14 of 2004 with regard to settling collective labor disputes between employer and a number or entirety of his employees. However, there has been no separate legislation which specifically provides for comprehensive rules on mediation process, thereby leaving mediation to be mainly governed by the contractual provisions as agreed between the parties.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that mediation has not been an available remedy in Qatar prior to the recent legal development. As a matter of fact, even before the issuance of the new law, mediation was already being offered as an alternative dispute resolution service by two main institutions.
One of these institutions is the Qatar International Centre for Conciliation and Arbitration (QICCA), which is part of the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The QICCA Rules of Conciliation and Arbitration issued on 01 May 2012 do not make any distinction between “conciliation” and “mediation”, but rather includes “mediation” as a form of conciliation as per its definition under said rules. This means that QICCA’s Rules of Conciliation are equally applicable to mediation or any similar process by which parties request a third party to assist them in their attempt to reach an amicable settlement of their dispute.
On the other hand, Qatar International Court and Dispute Resolution Centre (QICDRC) conducts mediations in accordance with its Mediation Rules (issued in February 2020). Pursuant to these rules, mediation can be initiated by three ways: (i) by QICDRC or the QFC Regulatory Tribunal (with the agreement of the parties); (ii) by contractual provision referring dispute to mediation; or (iii) by voluntary request of one or more parties to the dispute (as agreed by the non-requesting party or parties).
With the issuance of Law No. 20 of 2021 on Mediation for the Settlement of Civil and Commercial Disputes (the “Mediation Law”) on 18 October 2021, Qatar has made further step towards encouraging mediation as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism.
The newly-issued Mediation Law is made applicable to any mediation agreement in any of the following instances: (i) if the mediation is to be carried out, fully or partially, in the State of Qatar, unless the parties agree otherwise; (ii) if the parties agree that the provisions of the Mediation Law shall apply to their dispute or upon the Qatar court’s request for the parties to settle the dispute through mediation; and (iii) if the contract, subject of the dispute, specifies Qatar laws as the governing law.
The law listed specific cases when its provisions shall not be applicable, the most notable of which is in relation to legal suits in which Qatar Energy (QE) is a party. The exclusion extends to all companies that QE participates in establishing them or any entity in which QE contributes to. The exclusion from mediation scope relates to agreements regarding exploration, production, development, product sharing, joint ventures in connection with petroleum operations and petrochemical industries, and to any agreements involving any natural or legal person licensed by QE to carry out any petroleum operations.
Disputes in respect of tax assessment decisions, tax-related objections and appeals are also excluded from the application of the law. If the parties agree to resolve their dispute by arbitration or by any other dispute resolution mechanism without going to court, then the new Mediation Law will not apply, unless the parties expressly agree otherwise.
The Mediation Law provides for the qualifications of a mediator. If the mediator is a natural person, the law requires that he must have full legal capacity; he must not have been convicted by a final judgment of a felony or misdemeanour involving breach of honor or dishonesty, even if he has been reformed; he must be of good conduct and good reputation; he must be known for his integrity, impartiality, and experience; he must not have been previously dismissed from employment or position due to any judgment or disciplinary action; he must not have been removed from any register in which he is listed; and his licence to practice his profession must not have been revoked due to any judgment or disciplinary action.
The law also allows a juridical person to be a mediator, provided that it is either a private company or an institution for public benefit. The legal entity must not have been declared bankrupt by any final judgment, and its employees who would be undertaking the mediation must meet those requirements for a mediator who is a natural person.
In relation to the mediation agreement, the law requires that it must be in writing. It could be included in a document signed by the parties, in the form of electronic messages, or in any other means of communication that could prove the receipt of communication in writing. Any mediation agreement that is not in writing shall be deemed null and void.
One important aspect of the new Mediation Law is that it allows Qatar courts to request the parties to a case filed before it to settle their dispute through mediation within a period of time determined by the court. Thus, through the court’s intervention, parties are given the option to settle their dispute by mediation and avoid the lengthy and costly litigation process, even if they have not originally agreed to mediation process in their contracts. However, the parties can object to the court’s request and ask for the court to continue the resolution of the case.
The mediation process is expected to be undertaken expeditiously with the law requiring the mediator to complete the procedures within a period not exceeding thirty (30) working days from commencement thereof. This period may be extended with the consent of the parties.
Upon reaching a settlement, the mediator is expected to draft a settlement agreement within seven (7) days. The settlement agreement must include the names of the parties to the dispute, their information and contact details, and the case number if the dispute has been initiated before courts; name, information and contact details of the mediator; name and details of any other party who is required to agree to the settlement agreement; summary of the dispute; name of any appointed expert and his opinion; and the terms of the settlement as agreed by the parties. In order to be enforceable, the settlement agreement must be duly signed by the disputing parties, mediator, and any other party who is required to agree to the settlement.
Within seven (7) days from the execution of the settlement agreement, it is the obligation of the mediator to deposit an original copy of the same, the agreement to appoint a mediator, and the mediator’s acceptance of his appointment with the court’s clerk office. Upon the request of either party or the mediator, the settlement agreement shall then be notarized by the court. A notarized settlement agreement shall have the power of a writ of execution and it may not be subject to any further challenge or appeal, by any means.
It must be noted that the court has the power to refuse the notarization of the settlement agreement: if the settlement is in violation of Qatar laws or public order; if the settlement was undertaken through deception or fraud; if either party has become incapacitated; if the subject matter is not in fact permissible to be mediated; or if there is any impossibility in implementing any of the provisions of the settlement agreement.
The new Mediation Law protects the confidentiality of the mediation process, including the discussions, negotiations, and documents related to the mediation. Therefore, neither the mediator nor any party to whom any mediation-related information has been disclosed may disclose said confidential information to the court or to any third party without the consent of the disclosing party. Violation of the confidentiality obligation set forth in the law may expose the violator to a penalty of QAR 20,000 or 5% of the value of the dispute, whichever is higher, provided that the adjudicated amount does not exceed QAR 100,000. In addition, the court shall refer the dispute to another court’s circuit for adjudication, without the inclusion of the disclosed information, and all such disclosed matters in violation of the confidentiality obligation shall not be recognised by the court.
Another significant feature of the new legislation is the inclusion of an express provision that the mediation process can be carried out by electronic means, and this shall have the same binding effect.
With the issuance of the new Mediation Law, disputing parties are now given another useful method to resolve their differences, outside of litigation before Qatar courts, arbitration, or even mediation or conciliation process before QICCA and QICDRC. Cases that are filed before Qatar courts may now be mediated upon request of the court, provided that the disputing parties do not have any objection to the same. Accordingly, parties are given opportunity to settle their dispute in a more cost effective and time efficient manner, rather than proceeding with the litigation process that usually takes around one to two years or more to be decided upon.
The Mediation Law is indeed a significant legal and judicial development for Qatar which, if fully utilized, could be an effective tool in dispute resolution and could further improve the country’s judicial system.
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