Dubai: If you ever have to deal with the legal system in the UAE, it is important to understand exactly how the courts are structured to be able to escalate your case with the relevant authorities.
The legal structure in the UAE runs in two systems: the Federal Judiciary presided by the Federal Supreme Court as the highest judicial authority in the UAE and the local judicial departments at the local government level.
At the federal level, Ministry of Justice oversees courts and prosecution departments across the UAE. It appoints judges and licenses lawyers, experts and legal translators.
Articles 94 to 109 of the UAE's Constitution describe the general principles of these two systems and leave the details to the discretion of local judiciaries. Each of the seven emirates maintain the right to choose either to participate in the Federal Judiciary or to maintain its own local judicial system. The emirates of Sharjah, Ajman Fujairah and Umm Al Quwain follow the federal judicial system.
However, at the local level, Abu Dhabi Judicial Department in Abu Dhabi, Dubai Courts in Dubai and RAK Courts in Ras Al Khaimah maintain their own independent judicial departments, with jurisdiction in matters that were not assigned to the Federal Judiciary in accordance with the Constitution.
Article 105 of the Constitution allows by federal law, for all or part of a local emirate court's jurisdiction to be referred to the federal courts of first instance. However, it is not possible for a local emirate court to take jurisdiction away from the federal court.
Federal laws define the circumstances in which appeals against judgements by the local judicial authorities in penal, civil, commercial and other cases may be made before the federal courts.
The Constitution explains that there are some disputes that must be heard at a federal level by the Federal Supreme Court and not at a local or emirate's level. Also, the Federal Law No. 11 of 1973 regulates judicial relations between the emirates.
Three levels of court
The UAE adopts three levels of courts for litigation purposes. These are:
• Court of First Instance (federal and local)
• Court of Appeal (federal and local)
• Federal Supreme Court - which is at the federal level. For emirates that have independent judicial departments, this is called the Court of Cassation.
If the ruling of the Court of First Instance is not satisfactory, it can be challenged before the Court of Appeal and then the Court of Cassation according to the provisions of Federal Law No. 11 of 1992, as amended by Law No. 10 of 2014 concerning the Civil Procedural Law.
Court of First Instance
Court of First Instance is the first degree of litigation and has the jurisdiction to hear all civil, commercial, administrative, labour and personal status lawsuits. Its jurisdiction includes examining statement of claims, authentication of documents, all urgent matters related to disputes among the people and safeguarding their rights. It is also in charge of enforcing judicial execution deeds, as well as executions by deputation or reference.
Read our detailed guide on how you can file a civil case in the UAE here.
Criminal cases in the UAE commence with filing a complaint with the local police in the jurisdiction where the offence was committed.
During the investigation, police authorities may take the statements of any parties involved. Local police usually refer the matter to the prosecutor's office within 48 hours of the filing of the complaint.
Proceedings in Arabic
Adel Abdullah Humaid, Emirati writer and researcher and member of the UAE Authors and Writers Union spoke about the legal system in the UAE and highlighted how the judiciary is equitable for all individuals regardless of faith, sect, gender or nationality.
“All are equal before the law which guarantees human rights, prohibits and combats hatred and discrimination between individuals or groups of individuals because of their religion, belief, doctrine, denomination, sect, race, color or origin, while ensuring access to fair trial and protection from humiliating treatment for all citizens and expatriates,” he said.
All are equal before the law which guarantees human rights, prohibits and combats hatred and discrimination between individuals or groups of individuals because of their religion, belief, doctrine, denomination, sect, race, color or origin, while ensuring access to fair trial and protection from humiliating treatment for all citizens and expatriates.
However, it is important to note that if you do file a case, the court proceedings would be in Arabic. However, according to Humaid those who do not speak the language can rely on interpretation services which are provided at all levels.
“Since the court system in the UAE operates in the official language of the State, which is Arabic, interpretation service is provided during court sessions, in addition to the provision of a customer happiness service through which customers or visitors can raise their inquiries,” he said.
If you are completely unaware of where to start getting a lawyer, or getting legal advice on your case, Humaid recommended reaching out to the UAE’s Ministry of Justice or local judicial departments, which provide a list of law firms and lawyers, through which you can conduct your search and reach out to get legal advice.
Since the court system in the UAE operates in the official language of the State, which is Arabic, interpretation service is provided during court sessions, in addition to the provision of a customer happiness service through which customers or visitors can raise their inquiries.
Court of Appeal
Court of Appeal is the second degree of litigation, which entitles you to appeal your case before a higher court in accordance with the provisions of the civil and criminal procedural laws. However, it is important to note that the appeal can be made only by the party convicted by the court. So, the option to appeal is not available to anyone who accepts the court ruling explicitly or implicitly.
The time limit to challenge a ruling starts from the day following its issuance, unless the law provides otherwise. The time limit for appeal shall be 30 days unless otherwise provided by the law, and 10 days in urgent cases. The failure to observe the time limits of appeal in the judgements results in the extinguishment of the right of appeal.
Court of Cassation
Court of Cassation is the higher judicial body with the power to try cases contested by the Court of Appeals. It supervises the interpretation of laws and its proper enforcement.
At this court, litigants may appeal only on points of law alone, such as violation of law or on erroneous application or interpretation. The appeal must be filed within 60 days of the judgement of the Court of Appeal if the value claimed in the action exceeds Dh200,000 or cannot be evaluated.
All decisions of the Court of Cassation are final and binding and are not subject to appeal.
“The difference between courts, in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah for example, is subject to the local judiciary, in accordance with the laws stipulated by the ruler in the concerned emirate. With regard to the hierarchy of the courts, in my opinion, the difference lays in the designations: Court of Appeal in the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah, and Court of Cassation in Dubai. It is in this court level that the final appeals are entertained. It is called the Supreme Court in the federal court system in the capital Abu Dhabi,” Humaid said.
As mentioned earlier, the federal court system is followed by the emirates of Sharjah, Ajman Fujairah and Umm Al Quwain.
The difference between courts, in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah for example, is subject to the local judiciary, in accordance with the laws stipulated by the ruler in the concerned emirate. With regard to the hierarchy of the courts, in my opinion, the difference lays in the designations: Court of Appeal in the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah, and Court of Cassation in Dubai. It is in this court level that the final appeals are entertained. It is called the Supreme Court in the federal court system in the capital Abu Dhabi.
Within each level of the courts mentioned above, there are judicial circuits which manage cases according to specialty and jurisdiction. These include:
Minor circuit courts – These are formed by a single judge, who issues first instance judgements on civil, commercial, and labour actions, whose value does not exceed Dh500,000 and counterclaims whatever was their value.
Major circuit courts – These are formed of three judges. They have jurisdiction over all civil, commercial and labour actions, which do not fall within the jurisdiction of the minor circuits. In addition, they handle:
• administrative and real estate actions irrespective of their value
• temporary or summary claims and all other counterclaims, as well as the claims related to the original request
• bankruptcy and preventive composition lawsuits. https://gulfnews.com/living-in-uae/banking/struggling-with-debt-guide-to-uaes-insolvency-law-that-offers-a-breather-1.1580389956888
Labour court – These courts handle cases filed by private sector employees or employers against one another. Labour disputes usually concern unpaid salaries, rejection of leave, end-of-service benefits, compensation for arbitrary dismissal.
Personal status court (Sharia) – Personal status court handles all family cases related to matters such as marriage, divorce, alimony, guardianship, custody and visitation, proof of maturity, proof of lineage and inheritance.
Civil courts – Civil courts handle the cases related to the financial rights of individuals and legal entities such as government departments, companies and institutions. The cases can be related to disputes about validity, implementation, cancellation or termination of contracts, intellectual properties, lands and mortgages.
Commercial courts – Commercial courts handle commercial contracts and commitments, banking processes, commercial papers, bankruptcy and its reconciliation issues.
Criminal courts – These courts handle criminal cases initiated by the federal or local prosecution in each emirate.
- Information courtesy government.ae