Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Oman Law Digest 2009 - INTRODUCTION

The official currency is the Omani Rial which is divided into 1,000 Baizas. Omani courts and tribunals will enforce judgments in foreign currency.

On 23 July 1970, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said acceded to the throne of the Sultanate of Oman and launched radical reforms in government administration and the judicial system. His Majesty established a modern government structure and introduced major development programmes to build the infrastructure of the country and for building a prosperous future for the people of Oman.

In November 1996, Basic Statute, Oman’s first written constitution, was issued by Royal Decree 101/96. It prescribes the legal framework for governance and codifies the legal order of Oman. It provides rules for the royal succession, principles guiding state policies, functions of different authorities, individual rights and the structure of the Government.

Basic Statute characterizes the country as an independent, Arab, Islamic, fully sovereign state with Muscat as its capital and sets the political, economic, social, cultural and security principles of state policies. Political principles are stated to be: (i) preserving the State’s independence and sovereignty, and defending it against all forms of aggression; (ii) reinforcing cooperation and ties with all countries on mutual respect, common interest, noninterference in internal affairs and in compliance with generally recognised principles of international law for the promotion of world peace and security; (iii) laying foundations for the establishment of Shura consultation, based on the national heritage and Shariah; and (iv) establishing a good administrative system that guarantees justice, peace and equality for citizens, ensures public order and safeguards the interests of the State. Basic Statute provides for an independent judiciary and the right to a fair trial. It guarantees to individuals the right to life and liberty and freedom of speech and expression within limits of the law. It recognises the principle of due process of law and guarantees the right to defence in courts of law.

The Government structure comprises His Majesty the Sultan as the head of State and the council of ministers, functioning as a cabinet that consists of ministers appointed by the Sultan. The bicameral parliament or “Majlis Oman” comprises Shura council “Majlis Al Shura” or Consultative Council and “Majlis Al Duwlah” or State Council. Members of the State Council are appointed by His Majesty. The Shura council is a representative council whose members are elected by the people and it has mandate to review legislation pertaining to economic and social development prior to its becoming law.

Basic Statute contemplates the establishment of a higher council to oversee the running of courts and auxiliary bodies. The court system comprises courts of first instance, courts of appeal, and the Supreme Court.

Legislation consists of primary legislation and secondary legislation. Primary legislation is issued by and known as Royal Decree (“RD”) and published in the fortnightly Official Gazette. RD may be amended by RD only. Secondary or interstitial legislation is issued by Ministerial Decision (“MD”). Decisions and implementing regulations by a relevant executive body or ministry are also published in the Official Gazette.

Oman has civil law jurisdiction. All laws are required to be in conformity with Basic Statute. Laws become effective from the date of publication in the Official Gazette.

In 1975, the Diwan of legislation was formed to review all laws and to draft RDs, international agreements and Government contracts. The Ministry of Legal Affairs, established in 1994, is responsible for the preparation of RD and for reviewing all draft laws, regulations and MDs before they are promulgated and published in the Official Gazette. It issues the Official Gazette and gives legal opinions and advice to the Government on interpretation of RDs and laws.

RD 75/08 promulgated the State of Emergency Law authorising the declaration of emergency when the State’s security or public order is threatened by war, internal disturbance, general crisis or spread of epidemic. RD 76/08 promulgated the General Mobilization Law authorising the announcement of mobilization upon outbreak of war or of its revocation by Royal Orders.

The Hejira calendar is the official calendar of Oman. Based on this, there are five official holidays: Eid Al-Fitr, Eid Al-Adh’ha, Milad-Un-Nabi, new Heira year and Al Isra and Al Miraj. In addition, based on the Gregorian calendar, official holidays are also declared on 23 July – Renaissance Day, marking His Majesty’s ascendance to the throne, and National Day, which falls on 18 November.

The official language is Arabic. All documents, correspondence and agreements submitted to the Government and its instrumentalities must be in Arabic. Omani courts and tribunals will consider and construe only documents submitted in Arabic or in Arabic translation as translated by a duly licenced translator. Although unofficial English translations of many Omani regulations are available, the authoritative text is Arabic text. Omani court proceedings must be in Arabic. However, parties may agree on any other language for arbitration.

Oman is in GMT +04.00 hours. Office hours vary widely by business, but in general are from 8:00 AM to 1:30 PM Saturday through Thursday and 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM Saturday through Wednesday. In 2008, on the recommendation of the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, many companies adopted the five-day workweek of Sunday through Thursday with official hours of business increased by one hour on weekdays. Official working hours for Government offices are from 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM Saturday through Wednesday. Banks are open to the public from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM from Sunday to Thursday.