Qatar can emerge as most preferred seat of arbitration

 02 Sep 2019 - 0:00

Qatar can emerge as most preferred seat of arbitration
Khawar Qureshi QC, Head of McNair Chambers, speaking to The Peninsula. Pic: Salim matramkot/the peninsula

By Satish Kanady I The Peninsula

With an amended civil and commercial arbitration law, courts led by judges with global repute, superb infrastructure and transport connectivity, Qatar has all the potential to emerge as regional hub of international arbitration and dispute resolution, one of the top legal minds and the UK’s leading Commercial and International Lawyer told The Peninsula.

Khawar Qureshi QC, Head of McNair Chambers and leading UK Queen’s Counsel said that he is confident that Qatar will realise its potential and it will ensure that any issues that are still remaining in the minds of foreign investors are addressed. “The principal issue in the minds of commercial parties is the credibility and reputation of a jurisdiction. Questions raised include - how easy is to enforce arbitration awards against Qatari entities. These matters need to be addressed in the process of elevating Qatar as a regional hub for commercial dispute resolution centre”, Qureshi said in an exclusive interview.

Qureshi pointed out that most international commercial parties prefer dispute resolution outside domestic courts. They opt for the process of arbitration essentially on the basis of perceived neutrality, cost effectiveness and confidentiality. An arbitration award can generally be enforced more quickly than the judgment of a court. “I firmly believe that Qatar is capable of addressing such challenges as exist, which are largely matters of perception”, he said.

The English barrister Qureshi, possessing the prestigious title of Queen’s Counsel, has undertaken many high-profile cases before courts in the United Kingdom at all levels for the UK Government as one of its select few Treasury Counsel, as well as for or against many other States. He has made frequent appearances before International Arbitral Tribunals across the world representing over 70 different jurisdictions, including US Governance, Russia, India, Pakistan and several Qatari entities. He has taught law at Cambridge University and authored several leading Commercial and International law texts.

Qureshi who has successfully appeared for India in many matters, including the high-profile Enron/Dabhol case, also represented Pakistan in the International Court of Justice, The Hague in the sensitive Kulbhushan Jadhav case. Kulbhushan Jadhav is a 49-year-old allegedly retired officer of the Indian Navy, who was arrested by Pakistan security forces on charges of alleged espionage. Qureshi is the only lawyer ever to have represented India, Pakistan and appeared in a matter between the two States.

Indeed, Qureshi has undertaken many cases for commercial parties from India and elsewhere, as well as acting for the State entities such as Air India. His most significant achievement was as Counsel for the Government of India in what was then the largest claim brought against a State- by General Electric, Enron and Bechtel—for around $7bn, concerning the “Dabhol” power plant. In fact, he was instructed by the late Attorney General of India Milon Banerji, to replace other English Barristers far more senior to him. The Dabhol case was settled for a tiny fraction of the claimed amount. “I was honoured to work with Mr. Banerji who represented the very best of India, erudition, open mindedness and humility. A great man for whom I will always have enormous respect and affection”.

On the global trends in the dispute resolution and arbitration space, Qureshi said radical changes are taking place in key jurisdictions, which were not arbitration-friendly until recently. For instance, India has gone a long way. Until 2015, the Indian law on arbitration was considered to be less than supportive for arbitration. Now the law has been amended and there have been significant improvements in India in this regard.

Not least, the courts have helped to streamline the challenge/enforcement process by acting much more swiftly than they used to in the past. “This is a recognition of two factors. First, the economy of India is booming. Second, the Indian system is increasingly sensitive to foreign investment. India wishes to make sure that foreign investors are more comfortable with the legal system”.

Qureshi said similar changes have taken place in other jurisdictions as well. The past ten years have seen the emergence or expansion of regional dispute resolution centres such as Singapore and Qatar. Singapore has seen a rapid growth in disputes being brought before the Singapore international arbitration centre.

Qatar’s arbitration law was amended recently. It’s infrastructure is superb. The Qatar International Court and Dispute Resolution Centre (QICDRC) has highly experienced and globally reputed top class judges, who are specialised in the resolution of commercial and regulatory disputes. QICDRC has huge potential to attract commercial disputes from across the world. QICDRC could position itself as a leading forum for the resolution of international civil and commercial disputes, not least because disputes relating to locations such as emerging African economies could be dealt with by the Qatar international court due to proximity and excellent transport links.

“I am a firm believer that Qatar has enormous potential. The vision that has been shown by the leadership of Qatar and the consistent stand adopted by the country is commendable in many respects. The reality is that we live in a world which is increasingly aggressive and competitive - often in an underhand manner. Qatar has proved time and again that it is capable of adapting itself whenever the situation demanded“.

Great changes are taking place in Europe as well. The wisdom or otherwise of the UK marginally voting to leave the European Union could have a profound effect on the economy of the United Kingdom.

Qureshi noted that London has for decades been the preeminent jurisdiction for commercial disputes. Nearly, 60 percent of disputes coming before its commercial courts do not involve an English party. In the past 10 years, Singapore has been able to emulate England‘s success story to a very great extent. “Singapore must be congratulated for that. Qatar can look at the examples of Singapore and look at the example of London and learn from both”.

Whilst there is commercial interaction in the world there will always be disputes. The challenge and opportunity for Qatar is to position itself as a major hub to deal with such matters.