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Bar News - January 4, 2008

Qatar Uncovered: Conversations with Qatari Prosecutors

From left, Qatari prosecutors: Khalifa Sulaiman Al Abdulla, Abdulla Mohamed Al Malki, Saleh Ali Al Fadala, Fahed Rahed Al Kabbi, Sheikh Sultan Mohamed Saud Al Thani, speak at Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord

The Franklin Pierce Law Center, with the organization of the NHBA International Law Section, welcomed six guest speakers from the Middle East nation of Qatar on Dec. 4, 2007. According to International Law Section Chairman Ambassador George Bruno, the event was the first of its kind for the Section. The event was arranged by Bruno in conjunction with the Criminal Law Section to coincide with a visit to Concord by a Qatari delegation of attorneys.

The delegation was led by first deputy prosecutor for the Qatar Office of Public Prosecution, who was accompanied by five of his deputies: Saleh Ali Al Fadala, Khalifa Sulaiman, Al Abdulla, Fahed Rahed Al Kabbi and Sheikh Sultan Mohamed Saud Al Thani. The visitors, in the US as part of a two-week exchange program hosted by the US Department of Justice, Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training, was escorted by Michael Gunnison, resident legal advisor from the US embassy in Abu Dhabi.

Qatar, a country with a population of slightly less than one million, is a little smaller than Connecticut. Most law in Qatar is secular, although Islamic law can be applied in special cases. For instance, if the defendant is Muslim, murder; theft; adultery; drinking alcohol; and armed robbery can all be tried under Muslim law. The country has a constitution, which mentions the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. There is a Supreme Court in charge of interpreting the constitution, much like the United States Supreme Court.

Prospective prosecutors and judges must graduate from law school and apply for a job; the most qualified candidates are enrolled in a judicial institute for training. Prosecutors have a two-year internship, as do private lawyers. Judges have three-year judicial internships. Like prosecutors, they are appointed by the emir, the chief of state.

There are about 90 attorneys registered in Qatar. When it was pointed out that nearly 6,000 attorneys practice in New Hampshire, which has a population not much larger than 1.4 million, the first deputy prosecutor laughed, saying "Thank God we donít have as many problems as you have."

The country has two judicial entities; the prosecutor general and independent judges who preside over the court system. Prosecutors and judges serve for life and they cannot trade places. There are about 50 prosecutors, including two women, and between 140 and 160 judges, all male. According to the Qatari panelists, this fact is something they hope will change.

The police, who are part of the executive branch of the Qatari government, collect evidence, and then allow prosecutors to take over the investigation. Prosecutors provide warrants for searches and arrests when they are needed. Police have only 24 hours before they must turn prisoners over to the prosecutor or release them. Complaints about illegal detentions go to prosecutors and not to judges as they do in the United States.

The national Qatari prosecutorís office investigates felonies and decides whether to refer such cases to the court. Regional offices, which are distributed geographically, investigate misdemeanors. There are also special prosecutors for motor vehicle violations, drug enforcement, environmental laws, juveniles, and state security crimes.

Defendants in felony cases have a right to a lawyer in the trial phase and in misdemeanor cases, defendants "do not need a lawyer." Misdemeanors carry a penalty of up to three years in jail.

Trials are public unless a judge deems otherwise, which is often the case when the victim and the perpetrator are from the same family. There is no jury system and cases are held before a panel of three judges in most instances and before seven judges in special cases.

The event provided valuable insight into the workings of a Middle Eastern justice system. After the roundtable convened, Franklin Pierce Law School held a reception in the main foyer for the visitors.

Editorís Note: The International Law Section extends its gratitude to the Qatari delegates, to Franklin Pierce and to all those who attended.

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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