Monday, March 22, 2010

Prescription under Omani Law

For persons debating whether to bring a claim under Omani law, it is important to know that, for some matters, Courts will not permit the claim if too much time has elapsed since the event giving rise to the claim occurred. Similarly, companies that are concerned about potential litigation over an event may wonder at what point they can finally lay the matter to rest and be certain that no litigation will ensue.

The legal concept dealing with when a claim must be brought is known as “prescription” in civil law jurisdictions such as Oman. Prescription sets forth a maximum period of time after an offense occurs within which legal proceedings may be initiated. If the claim is not brought within the prescription period, the Court is unlikely to accept the case regardless of how strong it may be. This concept also is recognized in common law jurisdictions such as England and the United States under the term “statute of limitations”.

Prescription periods vary from case to case based on several factors such as the severity of the alleged offence. For example, in severe criminal matters there often is no prescription period and a person may be prosecuted no matter how much time has elapsed since the crime occurred. In contrast, for simple commercial matters the prescription period may be much shorter. In a commercial context, short prescription periods encourage parties to raise complaints in a timely fashion, which promotes certainty in commercial dealings.

Some typical examples of prescription in Omani law include:

  • Article 7 of the Oman Labor Law states that employee rights shall lapse after one year of becoming due. The Courts, however, have ruled that such rights shall lapse after one year of the termination date of the employment relationship.

  • Article 11 of the Consumer Protection Law states that consumers shall have the right within a period of ten days from the date of purchase of any commodity to have the commodity replaced or returned or to recover its value if it is defective.

  • Article 16 of the Law Regulating Engineering Consultancy Offices states that the owner of a consultancy office shall be jointly responsible with the contractor for the faults and flaws that may occur in the project designed by or executed under the supervision of his office for ten years from the date of the handing over of such installations.

  • Article 16 of the Law Regulating Engineering Consultancy Offices also states that claims filed after the lapse of three years from the date of discovering the fault or flaw without instituting an action within the aforesaid period shall not be considered by the Courts. This is an interesting example of prescription in which it is the discovery of a condition on which one wishes to initiate a legal claim, rather than a particular event, that starts the prescription clock ticking.