The aim of the Forum

The Forum’s vision was to provide an unsurpassed opportunity for dialogue on a multitude of legal topics that are underpinned by the global commitment to the rule of law, allowing participants to debate ideas and identify common objectives and solutions to issues that affect us all, wherever we come from. In his mission statement, Malik R Dahlan, Director of the Qatar Law Forum, said: “The importance of this debate in the present global economic circumstances is self-evident. It is the ambition of the Forum to be the foremost meeting for positive transnational engagement among leaders in law from around the world.”

The programme was put together with the assistance of the Harvard Law School and encompassed topics as wide ranging as global governance, legal education, sports law, Islamic finance, the legal profession today, international dispute resolution, the economic crisis and global cooperation, Shariah and legal reform in the Arab world, the role of the international judiciary and justice in the 21st Century.

In May 2009 Doha hosted an unprecedented event: the Qatar Law Forum which brought together hundreds of international leaders in law for face-to-face dialogue on the most pressing legal issues of our time and to mark a shared commitment to the rule of law. Amongst the distinguished guests were 14 Chief Justices, other senior members of the judiciary (including the Presidents of the ICJ and the ECtHR), leading practitioners, academics, general counsel, activists, regulators and corporate and institutional lawyers from over 60 jurisdictions – from the developed and developing world. The Forum was co-convened by Lord Woolf and Sir William Blair. It was generously hosted by the Government of Qatar and meticulously planned by its organisers.

The Director of the Qatar Law Forum, Malik R Dahlan, welcomed guests with the reminder that “the global commitment to the rule of law is not only a cornerstone of social order and development but of civilisation itself.”

Keynote speech

In Lord Phillips’ keynote speech on the rule of law in a global context, he highlighted the instrumental role the law has to play in dealing with the global challenges that we face, be those challenges to do with the financial crisis, climate change or religious and ideological tensions. Along with referring to a universal commitment to the authority of law and the proper administration of justice through independent and respected judicial systems, he said: “it is almost impossible to imagine the extent to which these tensions are likely to increase in the lifetime of our children and grand-children. It is not something that we like to think about too much. After all, there is nothing that we can do about it. It is up to the politicians and the scientists. That, I suggest, is simply not correct. There are only two ways in which these tensions will be resolved. One is war and the other is law”. The statement, accompanied by six propositions fundamental to the rule of law (see box), and stressing the importance of dialogue, resonated through the minds of those present during the rest of the event.

Women in the law

One of the most significant sessions at the Forum dealt with women in the law. It was held in honour of the Arab Women’s Legal Network (“AWLN”), an organisation working for the advancement of Arab women in the legal profession, although it focused on the challenges women across the world face in accessing the legal profession, whether as judges, practitioners, academics or activists. The panellists commented that over the last few decades the profession has witnessed a noticeable increase in female participation. It was suggested by Dr Lulwa Al-Misned, Acting Secretary-General of the Gulf Organisation for Industrial Consulting in Qatar, that the challenges that lay ahead in addressing the gender gap needed to be approached in a broader sociological context. Barbara Dohmann QC (who sits on the new Qatar Civil and Commercial Court which had just heard its first case) stressed the importance of family support for women wishing to pursue a legal career and flexible working patterns were advocated in order to encourage women with young families to continue into practice after law school. The contributors to the session did not promote preferential treatment for women over men and were unanimous in their view that selection should always be based on merit alone. However, as one very senior male commentator felt necessary to point out after the session, surely being a woman is merit in itself.

Main sessions were followed by speciality sessions enabling more focused discussion in smaller groups. This provided the opportunity to meet and learn about the experiences of some of the world’s most influential female judges, lawyers and academics and demonstrated how much female participation in the legal profession has achieved for our global society and for justice.

A promising sign

The outcome of the event has been and continues to be profound as work ensues around the globe to honour this global commitment to the rule of law and lawyers worldwide build upon lessons learnt and ideas shared to fulfil the law’s potential – a promising sign of great things to come. And at the very least (although it should be emphasised that it has achieved so much more), the Forum has certainly inspired one junior barrister from London to strive to uphold the principles that make the law a vehicle for positive development in society and thereby make a difference, in any small way that she can.

Khadija Ali is a barrister at Clarendon Chambers

The rule of law: the six propositions

1 There must be national respect for the rule of law
2 The commitment to the rule of law must be worldwide
3 Everyone shares responsibility for maintaining the rule of law
4 The rule of law requires constant vigilance
5 Access to justice must be open to all
6 Dialogue, understanding and mutual respect are the keys to a rule of law strong enough to withstand the stresses that lie ahead

—The Rt Hon Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers: Senior Law Lord; President-Elect of the Supreme Court