Ministry of Justice decision to extend deadline on Omani lawyers renews debate

Deadline extended to 2020 for foreign lawyers to stop practicing in courts across the country

  
A Justice statue is pictured at the office of Masoud Shafie, lawyer for the three U.S. hikers charged with spying after they were arrested near Iran's border with Iraq, in Tehran May 9, 2011.. REUTERS/Morteza Image used for illustrative purpose

A Justice statue is pictured at the office of Masoud Shafie, lawyer for the three U.S. hikers charged with spying after they were arrested near Iran's border with Iraq, in Tehran May 9, 2011.. REUTERS/Morteza Image used for illustrative purpose

REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl
01 February 2017
Faris Al Hashmi
Muscat - A recent Ministry of Justice decision has once again raised the question whether only Omani lawyers should be allowed to practise in courts across the country. The ministry has reversed its earlier deadline on foreign lawyers to stop practising by 2017. It has now been extended to 2020 – this is the second time it has been extended.

It’s clear that the government believes law should be Omanised, but how can this be achieved and why is it important?

Some argue that an Omani lawyer would have a different approach to issues compared to expatriates. Just as policemen should be Omani, so should lawyers, they say.

“It’s a national profession,” said Sumaiya al Balushi, partner at Mohammed al Ruqaishi Law Firm. “As Omanis we have a different intention in practising law in terms of nationalism compared to non-Omanis. It also gives Omanis an opportunity to prove that they are able to work in such a profession.”

Part of the legal profession is already Omanised. Only Omani lawyers are allowed to appear in the primary courts. However, this is not the case in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court where the Omanisation rate is much lower.

Some experts say there aren’t enough Omani lawyers in the field. They say that Omanis with law degrees would rather work in government jobs or in businesses rather than an actual law office.

But this can be changed according to some like Sumaiya. She describes the requirements for lawyers to advance from one stage to another as unnecessarily strict.

Omanis can practise in the primary court after first working for two years under the supervision of a senior lawyer. An Omani lawyer then needs five years of practise in the lower court to move to the Court of Appeal and a further seven years at the appellate level to earn the right to practise at the Supreme Court.

Though these standards were put in place to maintain quality, Sumaiya says it also pushes people away from pursing the legal profession.

“Lower pay, longer working hours and difficult tasks make it less attractive. It is, therefore, not easy to convince graduates leave other comfortable jobs and practise law,” Sumaiya said.

She said the government should do more to train Omanis when firms are unwilling to make such investments.

On the other side of the argument, some experts say that in a multicultural society like Oman, there is a certain market demand for foreign expertise.

“A large number of foreign businessmen have big investments here. Expatriates in some cases feel more comfortable interacting with other expats,” said Dr Saif al Rawahi, a professor at SQU and director of Dr Saif al Rawahi Advocates, Advisors & Corporate Consultants. “They are not ready to give work to Omani law firms.”

Experienced expat lawyers with international experience can also be crucial in developing young talented Omanis. “It’s an important part of our role here to recruit and develop talented Omani lawyers,” said Nick Simpson, managing partner of international law firm Dentons. “We know that our clients find it important that Omani lawyers with experience in an international setting are working on the teams advising them.”

Prof Rawahi believes that incentives should be provided to increase the number of Omani lawyers. For example, governmental and semi-governmental organisations and large corporations should allot their legal work/tenders to local law firms or law firms with a good Omanisation percentage.

Sumaiya added that a clear strategy is needed to achieve the 2020 goal. “By doing nothing, this profession will remain the same in 2020 just as it is now.”

© Muscat Daily 2017

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