Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Enactment of New Laws in Oman

Overview of the Omani Legal System
Oman is an absolute monarchy and all laws are promulgated by the Head of State, His Majesty the Sultan, as Sultani Decrees.  Other laws which are subordinate to Sultani Decrees (in the form of Ministerial Decisions and Executive Regulations) are issued from time to time by Ministers as well as the administrative units of the Government of Oman (the “Government”).  

There are two types of legislation in Oman, primary and secondary.  Primary legislation is promulgated by a Sultani Decree directly from His Majesty the Sultan.  Secondary legislation is passed by Ministerial Decisions and the Executive Regulations.  All ministers in Oman are appointed by the Sultan.  Article 74 of the Sultani Decree 101 of 1996, the Basic Law (“SD 101/96”), provides that all Sultani Decrees and Ministerial Decisions must be published in the Official Gazette.  Executive Regulations are sometimes not published in the Official Gazette but issued as an internal regulation for the relevant Government departments to abide by.

Oman has an Official Gazette pursuant to the Sultani Decree 84 of 2011 (“SD 84/11”) in which new legislation is published.  The date of implementation of any new legislation is generally the date of issue of the Gazette in which the legislation is published.  Article 5 of SD 84/11 provides that the publication shall be considered as presumption for the knowledge of all, and no evidence to the contrary may be accepted.  All legislation published in the Gazette is enforceable.

In addition, Oman operates a system of Shari’ah law in accordance with Article 2 of SD 101/96, which states that Islam is the religion of the State and the Islamic Shari’ah is the basis of the law.   However, the role of Shari’ah is limited in certain areas and, in practice, has little influence on commercial activities.

When it comes to the enactment of new laws in Oman, Article 72 of SD 101/96 provides that the application of the Basic Law shall not prejudice treaties and agreements in which the Sultanate has entered into with other countries, international institutions or organisations.  Article 76 of SD 101/96 further provides that treaties and agreements shall not have the force of law until such time as they have been duly ratified.

The Procedure to Ratify a Law in Oman
There is no fixed procedure for promoting the creation of a new law, whether it be a Sultani Decree or a Ministerial Decision. However, the law in question would have to be sponsored by the relevant Government department and is subject to review by the Ministry of Legal Affairs.  Usually, the Government department that is concerned with the subject matter of the law to be enacted shall be the first to draft, amend and review the new law.  This process does not have a specific timeframe as Government departments have a discretionary timeframe to look at new Sultani Decrees, unless urgency has been placed on the matter by one of the councils, or due to the fact that the legislation has been brought in due to an international treaty.

Once a draft has been issued by a Government department and that draft has been approved by the Ministry of Legal Affairs, the various other Government departments that may be affected by the subject matter of the proposed new law are then asked to review and recommend any amendments to that draft law.   Once approved, the draft law is then sent to the State Consultative Council and the Cabinet of Ministers.

The State Consultative Council has statutory powers to recommend and suggest new legislation for Government departments.  The State Consultative Council consists of the Council of State (Majlis A’ Dawla) and the Consultative Council (Majlis A’Shura).  The Majlis Al Shura will make its recommendation pursuant to Article 29(a) of Sultani Decree 86 of 1997 promulgating the Law regarding the Council of Oman (“SD 86/97”).  The draft is then transmitted to the Majlis Al Dawla, which undertakes a similar exercise (Article 18(d) of SD 86/97).  Both Councils will report to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide final recommendation on the new law.

Once the new law is approved by the parties above, it is then sent to the Diwan Royal Court to His Majesty for his approval, which then leads to the Sultani Decree being published in the Official Gazette.

Further, Article 5 of SD 84/11 provides that new laws and regulations shall be applied from the date of their publication in the Official Gazette or its appendixes, unless specified otherwise.

The Timeframe for the Enactment of New Law
There are no formal prescribed time limits for the completion of the process of promulgation of new legislation.  In theory, the promulgation of a new law can be completed quickly, if one of the councils has expressed the matter concerning the legislation to be urgent, or due to the fact that the requirement for the legislation has been brought about by an international treaty or GCC agreement.

In practice, however, it would be very difficult to predict as to how long each applicable Government unit will take to review and approve the new law as the timeframe is at the discretion of each applicable Government unit.