Monday, February 20, 2017

Judicial Confession, Taping and Recorded Tapes

Anyone involved in a public prosecution or a commercial investigation should be aware of their rights (and the law) with regard to giving a confession.
Confessions in civil cases
Article 57 of the new Evidence Law defines “confession” as the admission by a person of [committing] a legal fact to another person, with the purpose of proving his commission of that fact by such person and such admission may be judicial or non-judicial.  Accordingly, a judicial confession is conclusive and absolute evidence against the confessor, confined to him, and binding to a court.  The confession may not be divisible, unless it has been made in respect of a number of events, and the existence of one of these events does not necessarily mean, or prove, the existence of the others.  Properly obtained judicial confessions are evidence against the confessor, and the confessor may not retract such a confession.
Confessions in criminal cases
Article 190 provides that if at any time the accused admits that he is guilty, the court shall hear his statements in detail and cross-examine him.  If it is satisfied that the confession is sound and sufficient, it may abandon the remaining proceedings, or some of them, and decide the case.  That is, the Supreme Court has confirmed that a confession in a criminal case may have a conclusive role in that case.  However, such evidence shall be subject to an assessment by the subject matter court, with no control or influence from the Supreme Court. The subject matter court may accept the confession of the accused following its investigations.  In respect of a confession, the subject matter court will seek to understand the motivation and grounds behind the giving of the confession, and assess whether or not it has been given based on evidence, liberty, perception and understanding, or, has been given subject to coercion. 
How is improperly obtained evidence treated?  Can such evidence be admissible?
A confession may be inadmissible if it was obtained illegally; however, any material evidence that is discovered as a result of such confession may still be admissible.  An accused may not avoid punishment simply for reasons of evidence having been obtained illegally.
A confession made under coercion is inadmissible, even if there is evidence confirming its accuracy.  If an accused maintained his confession after the coercion ceased to exist, it would be treated as a new confession.  In order to establish that a confession was obtained under coercion, the burden of proof lies with the claimant (i.e., the claimant must prove that his confession was obtained through coercion such as being tied up, restrained, arrested or guarded).  
Confessor’s retraction
A confession may, in certain circumstances, be retracted.  The retraction of a confession may be overlooked if the crime can be established with sufficient evidence supporting the confession.  It has been argued that with regard to major crimes, the retraction of a confession does not cancel the confession, but other evidence is required, even circumstantial evidence, in this regard.
Call recording and tapping and recorded tapes as evidence
Article 90 of the Criminal Procedures law states that Correspondence and cables may not be confiscated or perused, newspapers, publications and parcels may not be confiscated, conversation taking place at a private place may not be recorded, the telephone may not be tapped and the dialogue may not be recorded without the permission of the Public Prosecutor.  The permission specified in article 90 of this Law shall be issued if the Public Prosecutor is of the view that it would be useful evidence where there is a suspected offence or misdemeanor that would be punishable by imprisonment for a period exceeding three months.  The permission shall be substantiated and its period shall not exceed 30 days subject to renewal for similar periods, if required.
Moreover, article 30 of the Basic Law states that the freedom of correspondence by post, telegraph, telephone, or other means of communication is protected and its confidentiality guaranteed.  Hence it is unlawful to monitor, search, disclose the confidentiality, delay or confiscate the same except in cases specified by the law and in accordance with the procedures prescribed therein.
Any person involved in a public prosecution or commercial investigation should consult with a lawyer as soon as possible and, in any event, before giving a confession.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Environmental Law in Oman

The desire for a green and pollution-free environment in Oman grows every year, as the world seeks to tackle the ill effects of global warming and other environmental concerns.  As the world gears up to combat this threat, the Sultanate of Oman has put a series of laws in place to protect its land and territorial waters against pollution.  Protection of habitats has been achieved through the environmental permit system implemented under Sultani Decree 10/82 (now replaced by Sultani Decree 114/01).  The Sultanate has always sought to strike a balance between the needs of development and the environment.  Industrial construction projects must be reviewed and certified by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs (the “MOECA”) before commencement.  When reviewing a proposed construction project, the MOECA examines the possibility of damage to the environment and ensures that all measures have been taken to minimise pollution from waste products prior to giving its approval.
Legislation for wildlife protection and nature conservation is mainly in the form of Sultani Decrees and Ministerial Decisions.  The management and action plans for all protected areas are strictly implemented.  Sultani Decree 34/74, issuing the Marine Pollution Control Law, seeks to ensure the safety of the marine environment.  Sultani Decree 68/79, establishing the Council for Conservation of Environment and Prevention of Pollution, was followed by Sultani Decree 10/82 (replaced by Sultani Decree 114/01), issuing the Law on Conservation of the Environment and Prevention of Pollution, which laid the practical and scientific basis for private and public practices in environmental fields.  This was further strengthened by the issue of Sultani Decree 45/84 establishing the Ministry of Regional Municipalities, Environment and Water Resources as the first ministry of its kind in the Arab world.
Marine pollution
One of the most significant laws concerning the protection of the environment in Oman is the law on the Control of Marine Pollution (Sultani Decree 34/74).  Under this law, no person has the right to discharge any pollutant in the pollution-free zone from a ship, shore location or oil transport facility.  
Moreover, no ship has the right to discharge any pollutant in the pollution-free zone and each day of a violation is considered as a separate violation.  No ship owner or any owner or operator of a shore location or oil transport facility has the right to disregard any of its obligations under the law.  Any owner or operator of the shore location or oil transport facility violating the law subsequent to a third offence may be liable to be deprived, either temporarily or permanently, of any or all of the rights granted by the Government.  The pollution control officer, or any other person appointed by the MOECA in charge of implementing this law, is empowered to arrest any person who has committed an offence punishable with imprisonment in accordance with this law, and to detain such person until the issue is resolved; the officer may also detain and seize any ship in violation of the law.  If a pollutant has been discharged in the pollution-free zone, the owner of that ship or the owner or operator of that shore location or oil transport facility, as the case may be, will be liable for, inter alia, costs borne by the Government in order to mitigate or eliminate the pollution, and the damages suffered by the Government and/or any other person.
Solid non-hazardous waste
The Regulations for the Management of Solid Non-Hazardous Waste (MD 17/93) deal with solid non-hazardous waste, including any solid or semi-solid material, which does not pose any danger to the environment or to the human health, if it is dealt with in a safe scientific way.  Household waste and solid materials from commercial and industrial establishments are included in non-hazardous waste.  The occupants of premises which are used for commercial or industrial purposes are required to store and dispose of solid non-hazardous waste in accordance with the provisions of these regulations, so that there is no nuisance or hazard to public health.
The user of a commercial or industrial site which produces solid non-hazardous waste is obliged to collect the waste and transport it in a safe manner to a site designated by the relevant authority for the purpose.  The law does not permit any person to dispose of solid non-hazardous waste in places other than designated places.  No solid non-hazardous waste should be mixed with any category of hazardous waste at any time.  Various authorities responsible for the day-to-day operation and management of the collection and disposal of solid non-hazardous waste need to obtain permits and licenses from the MOECA.
Hazardous waste
The Regulations for the Management of Hazardous Waste (MD 18/93) deal with hazardous waste, including any waste arising from commercial, industrial or any other activities, which due to its nature, composition, quantity or for any other reason is hazardous or threatens to be hazardous to the environment.  Any storage facility for hazardous waste must be duly licensed by the MOECA.  This law requires all hazardous waste to be labeled and packed according to the provisions stipulated in this respect.  Every hazardous waste generator should store the hazardous waste in approved storage facilities on its land, or at its premises, until it is removed in accordance with the terms of the license issued by the MOECA.  Hazardous waste must be transported by vehicles licensed by the MOECA to collect, handle, store and dispose of hazardous waste outside the waste generator’s premises. 
Waste water re-use and discharge
The Regulations for Wastewater Re-Use and Discharge were promulgated through MD 145/93 and provide that the discharge of any wastewater or sludge into the environment, in whatever form or conditions, is prohibited without a permit to discharge from the MOECA.  Further, this law provides for the regulation of the quality of wastewater and its re-use.  Before re-use, the wastewater or sludge is tested to determine the quantity of various metals in it and its pH value.  Those with high concentrations of metals must be disposed of in sanitary landfills with the prior approval of the MOECA.  Wastewater must be discharged only where re-use is not possible.  The MOECA may supervise the samples of wastewater at any place at any time.
Whilst there are many other laws that have been issued to ensure the safekeeping of the environment, the above laws are some of the most important in relation to wastewater, management of waste and marine pollution.


Monday, February 6, 2017

The Right to Bring a Commercial Claim against a Non-Contractual Party under Omani Law

Similar to what is commonly referred to as a “tort” claim in many common law jurisdictions, Omani law principally recognises a party’s right to bring a commercial claim against a non-contracting party.
Specifically, it is an established principle in Omani law to allow a party to pursue a claim against a non-contracting party when an exchange or incident, and the resultant claim, involves only two entities.  However, in scenarios involving three parties, a party’s right to bring a claim against its non-contracting party may differ, particularly in construction contracts. 
This article will explore the circumstances under which a party is legally permitted to bring a claim against a non-contracting party.  It will also explore the circumstances in which it is impermissible for a party to bring a claim against a party with whom its relationship is not rooted in contract.
The right to file suit against a non-contractual party in a two-party transaction
The right to sue a non-contracting party, in scenarios involving two parties, was confirmed by the Supreme Court in its judgment number 160/2008.  In this case the Supreme Court held that a party may bring a claim against a non-contracting party seeking recompense for actual and reasonably foreseeable losses when its losses arise from a “wrongful act” or “harmful act. The Supreme Court further explained that “the basic rule followed in law is that anything done or said which causes harm to any other person is deemed to constitute a failure to observe the legal obligation incumbent upon all men not to inflict harm on any other person without lawful cause.
Naturally, the Supreme Court’s position is consistent with what was established by the Omani legislature in 2013 in the Omani Civil Code (“Civil Code”), promulgated by Royal Decree 29/2013.  Article 176 of the Civil Code, which is located under the chapter titled Harmful Acts, provides that a party shall be liable for “any harm to others” – that is, irrespective of whether the two parties have a contractual relationship.
Very importantly, the facts presented before the Supreme Court in Case No 160/2008 involved only two parties.  As we discuss below, the right to sue a non-contractual party in scenarios involving three parties may be different under Omani law.
The right to a sue a non-contracting party in scenarios involving three parties
Under Omani law, a party may be precluded from bringing a claim against a non-contracting party, specifically in commercial transactions involving three parties.  A common example in which this scenario arises is with construction-related contracts – such as when an employer (or project owner) has a contractual relationship with only a main contractor, and a sub-contractor also only has contractual relationship with the same main contractor.  Thus, although the employer and sub-contractor are both involved on the same transaction, they do not have a contractual relationship with one another; rather, both the employer and sub-contractor have mutually exclusive contracts with a third-party intermediary, the main contractor.
In the event that a sub-contractor believes that an employer’s conduct has caused the sub-contractor to sustain damages, the sub-contractor does not have the legal right to bring a claim against the employer under Omani law.  Again, this is irrespective of whether the sub-contractor considers the employer’s ‘harmful’ or ‘wrongful’ acts to be a direct cause for it having sustained losses.  The sub-contractor’s only right of recourse will be against its own contractual counterparty, the main contractor; not the employer.
This principle has been established by case law, most notably by the Supreme Court in Case No 364/1994.  Therein, the Supreme Court stated that the “general principles of independence of privity” precluded a sub-contractor from bringing a direct claim against the employer.  In other words, the lack of a contract between the employer and the sub-contractor meant that the sub-contractor could not bring a direct claim against the employer.
The Supreme Court’s position set out in its 364/1994 decision has also been confirmed by the Civil Code.  Article 645 of the Civil Code provides that “a sub-contractor shall have no claim against the employer for anything due to him from the first contractor…. Thus, a sub-contractor’s right for recourse is limited to claims only against its contractual counterparty, the main contractor.
Recoverable damages against non-contracting third parties
As discussed above, a party will be generally precluded from seeking recompense from a non-contracting party in commercial transactions involving three parties.  However, a party may be able to recover damages from a non-contracting party in scenarios or transactions involving only two parties.
Notwithstanding this, the amount of recoverable damages will be limited to actual, provable losses sustained, together with reasonably foreseeable losses.  Further, a claimant must demonstrate a direct, provable nexus between the losses incurred and the amount of compensation in which he seeks.
In its 65/2003 decision, the Supreme Court stated that all recoverable losses must be ‘direct’ and ‘natural’ arising from the alleged harmful or unlawful act.  Further, Article 181 of the Civil Code states that a party’s compensation for losses arising from a harmful act “shall be assessed on the basis the amount of harm suffered by the aggrieved, together with loss of profit, provided that that is a natural result of the harmful act.