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Starting an arbitration proceeding
What is needed to commence arbitration?
Article 21 of the Arbitration Law stipulates that the arbitration proceedings will commence on the day on which the respondent receives the request for referral of the dispute to arbitration, unless the parties agree otherwise.
The Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) Arbitration Regulations (Article 27) also presume that the arbitration has commenced once the respondent receives a referral to arbitration.
Are there any limitation periods for the commencement of arbitration?
If Qatari law applies to the parties’ underlying relationship, any arbitration proceedings commenced after the applicable limitation period provided will be time barred pursuant to Qatari law. Under Qatari law, the general prescription for claims of personal rights is 15 years (Article 403 of the Civil Code). Other claims have shorter limitation periods – for example, engineers have five years to claim any outstanding fees (Article 405 of the Civil Code).
Are there any procedural rules that arbitrators must follow?
The parties are free to agree their procedural rules for the arbitration. The rules for the procedure contained in the Arbitration Law are general. Article 23 provides for the submission of a statement of claim and a statement of defence.
Article 25(1) of the QFC Arbitration Regulations also gives the parties the power to determine their own procedural rules by agreement.
Are dissenting opinions permitted under the law of your jurisdiction?
The Arbitration Law does not prohibit dissenting opinions, and there is no reason to assume that an arbitrator is not entitled to give a dissenting award given that an award by a tribunal is valid by majority. Article 31(1) of the Arbitration Law requires that the refusal to sign an award be stated in the award.
The situation in the QFC is similar: the QFC Arbitration Regulations do not prohibit dissenting opinions, and there is no reason to assume that an arbitrator is not entitled to give a dissenting award. Article 37(1) of the QFC Arbitration Regulations requires that the refusal to sign an award be stated in the award.
Can local courts intervene in proceedings?
Local courts can intervene in proceedings in limited circumstances – for example:
- Article 9 – the competent judge may order interim measures in situations where the arbitral tribunal does not have jurisdiction or is incapable to act effectively;
- Article 11 – the parties can request the assistance of the competent court regarding the appointment of arbitrators;
- Articles 13(1) and 13(2) – if an arbitrator against whom a challenge has been brought fails to withdraw, or the other party objects to the challenge, the challenge can be referred to the competent court;
- Article 14(1) – the parties can request the competent court to terminate an arbitrator’s appointment where the arbitrator is unable or ceases to perform his or her mandate;
- Article 16(3) – the competent court may hear appeals on the jurisdiction of the arbitral tribunal if the tribunal has dismissed the objection to jurisdiction; and
- Article 27(1) – the tribunal may request assistance in obtaining evidence from the competent court.
Under the QFC Arbitration Regulations, assistance may be sought from the local courts and the QFC Tribunal (being the body in the QFC to administer and enforce QFC commercial laws and assist in the conduct of arbitrations under the QFC Arbitration Regulations). For example, the QFC Tribunal can assist arbitral tribunals in the taking of evidence (Article 33 of the QFC Arbitration Regulations), and parties can request interim measures from local state courts and the QFC Tribunal before or during arbitral proceedings (Article 12 of the QFC Arbitration Regulations).
Can the local courts assist in choosing arbitrators?
With respect to sole arbitrators, either party may apply to the competent court to assist with the appointment where the parties have failed to agree on an arbitrator within 30 days after the written notice of arbitration has been served (Article 11(5)(a) of the Arbitration Law).
In case of a three-member tribunal, if either party has failed to appoint their nominated arbitrator within 30 days of receiving their request to do so, or where the parties’ nominated arbitrators have failed to appoint the third arbitrator within 30 days from the later date of their respective appointments, the competent court can make the appointment (Article 11(5)(b)).
Further, where the parties have agreed on an appointment procedure, under Article 11(6), either party may ask the competent court to carry out the necessary procedure where:
- a party has failed to take an action provided for under the agreed procedure;
- the parties (or the two arbitrators) have failed to reach the necessary agreement; or
- a third party has failed to fulfil any task assigned to it.
If the above circumstances arise, the QFC Tribunal (not the Qatari courts) can secure the appointment (Article 14 of the QFC Arbitration Regulations).
What is the applicable law (and prevailing practice) where a respondent fails to participate in an arbitration? Can the courts compel parties to arbitrate? Can they issue subpoenas to third parties?
The arbitral tribunal will continue with the proceedings if the respondent fails to submit its defence pleading, but such failure will not be deemed an acceptance of the claims by the respondent. Where a party fails to attend a hearing or provide any evidence, documents or other information required, the tribunal may also continue the proceedings and resolve the dispute based on the evidence presented (Articles 25(2) and 25(3) of the Arbitration Law).
The QFC Arbitration Regulations expressly provide that the arbitral tribunal may proceed with the arbitration and render an award on the evidence before it if a respondent fails to communicate its statement of defence or appear at a hearing, without showing sufficient cause for such failure (Article 31 of the QFC Arbitration Regulations).
In what instances can third parties be bound by an arbitration agreement or award?
The Arbitration Law and the QFC Arbitration Regulations do not address this issue. However, under the Qatari Civil Code, a contract is binding only on the contracting parties and their successors. Therefore, it is likely that an arbitral tribunal may only assume jurisdiction over third parties in the event of a general succession to a party or when the arbitration agreement is formally assigned. Apart from these situations, the scope of the arbitration agreement or award seems to remain limited to the parties. The ‘group of companies’ doctrine does not appear to be recognised in Qatar.
Default language and seat
Unless agreed by the parties, what is the default language and location for arbitrations?
The parties are free to determine the language unless their arbitration agreement precludes them from doing so. Failing agreement, the tribunal will decide on the language (or languages) to be used (Article 22(1) of the Arbitration Law).
The parties are free to agree on the seat inside or outside Qatar. Failing agreement, the tribunal will determine the seat, paying due attention to the circumstances of the dispute and how convenient the proposed location is to the parties (Article 20(1) of the Arbitration Law).
The parties are free to agree on the language and the seat of the arbitration. Failing such agreement, these matters will be determined by the arbitral tribunal (Articles 26 and 28 of the QFC Arbitration Regulations).
How is evidence obtained by the tribunal?
The procedure for taking evidence is left to the agreement of the parties and, absent any such agreement, to the discretion of the tribunal (Articles 19(1) and 19(2) of the Arbitration Law).
Article 25 of the QFC Arbitration Regulations provides that the parties are free to agree on the procedure in the arbitration and that, absent any such agreement, the tribunal can conduct the proceedings in such manner as it considers appropriate. The tribunal can also determine the admissibility, relevance, materiality and weight of any evidence.
What kinds of evidence are acceptable?
The Arbitration Law specifically envisages documentary evidence, fact witness evidence and expert evidence, both by party-appointed and tribunal-appointed experts (Articles 23(4), 24(1) and 26). Article 24(2) of the Arbitration Law now provides that witnesses and experts will be heard without swearing an oath.
The QFC Arbitration Regulations specifically envisage documentary evidence and tribunal-appointed experts (Articles 30 and 32), but this does not mean that other forms of evidence are excluded.
Is confidentiality ensured?
The award may not be published without the consent of both parties (Article 31(8) of the Arbitration Law). However, there is no express provision protecting the confidentiality of the proceedings more generally. However, the parties can agree that the arbitration will be kept confidential.
The QFC Arbitration Regulations do not provide for the confidentiality of arbitration proceedings and do not address the publication of awards. However, the parties can agree that the arbitration will be kept confidential.
Can information in arbitral proceedings be disclosed in subsequent proceedings?
If the subsequent arbitration is between the same parties, it is safe to assume that information in arbitral proceedings can be disclosed. However, given the confidentiality provision in Article 31(8) of the Arbitration Law, this should not be the case where the parties are not identical.
There are no provisions on confidentiality in the QFC Arbitration Regulations, so it is possible that where details of an award published there would be nothing to stop parties to another QFC arbitration or court proceedings from referring to them.
What ethical codes and other professional standards, if any, apply to counsel and arbitrators conducting proceedings in your jurisdiction?
Qatari Advocacy Law 23/2006 sets out ethical and professional rules that govern the conduct of lawyers admitted to the Qatari courts. It covers duties of loyalty, confidentiality and good reputation of lawyers. Non-Qatari lawyers are not entitled to practise law in Qatar outside of the regime created by the QFC, unless they hold a specific authorisation from the Lawyers Admission Committee.
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