It seemed strange to be discussing the rule of law in a country run by an absolute monarch who took power in a coup. And yet dozens of senior British judges and lawyers recently travelled to the Gulf state of Qatar to do just that.
Some 450 legal luminaries from almost 90 countries — not including Israel, of course — were invited to the weekend conference at the expense of the government of Qatar.
The hospitality was generous but Qatar can probably afford it: oil and gas revenues have given its people the highest per-capita income in the world.
The results of this wealth are impossible to miss. Viewed across the lagoon from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Doha appears as one huge building site with cranes alongside every skyscraper. Appropriately, the Gulf Times was carrying a supplement on earth-moving equipment.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani, Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, told the Qatar Law Forum that his country's "vision of democracy" was defined by the policies of the Emir, who "took power" in 1995. That was when Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani replaced his father in what the Foreign Office profile describes as a bloodless coup.
Qatar committed itself to the rule of law in a constitution that took effect in 2005. This provides for two-thirds of the seats on a 45-member legislative council to be elected, with the remainder appointed by the Emir.
But no date has yet been set for the first elections. In an explanation that shed more darkness than light, Sheikh Hamad — the PM, not the head of state — told the conference that Qatar had "embarked on a process of ongoing review of the present legislation on the basis of the constitution in order to modernise and harmonise it with the requirements of sustainable development and progress to the level of advancement that we seek for our country".
Still, the PM's promise to "redress the drawbacks in legislation" was greeted enthusiastically by Qatar's relentlessly upbeat local press. And no less a figure than Lord Woolf was on hand to argue that principles such as fairness and independence were not inconsistent with countries governed by a ruling dynasty.