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LITIGATION IN THE UAE

The United Arab Emirates is essentially a civil law jurisdiction heavily influenced by Roman, Egyptian and Islamic law.

Predominantly, there’s a federal court structure with a final court of cassation in Abu Dhabi (the Federal Supreme Court), however both Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah are not part of the federal judicial system. Unlike the other emirates, Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah have their own court systems, which are not subject to the Federal Supreme Court.

The court structure in Dubai is comprised of the following courts: the Court of First Instance, the Court of Appeal and the Court of Cassation. The Court of First Instance includes the Civil Court, the Criminal Court and the Sharia Court.

Only a local advocate may appear as counsel before the judge. The UAE court accepts an attorney appointed by a litigant according to the provisions of the law, and the attorney must prove his appointment as representative of his client by an official deed (i.e. power of attorney) notarized by a notary public.

The Civil Court (as a Court of First Instance) hears all claims ranging from commercial matters (including debt recovery cases) to maritime disputes. After judgment has been delivered, the parties have the right to appeal to the Civil Court of Appeal on factual and/or legal grounds within 30 days of the date of judgment. It’s possible to introduce additional evidence to the Court of Appeal and/or request that additional witnesses be called to testify. Thereafter, parties may appeal on points of law alone to the Court of Cassation (the highest court in Dubai), which is usually composed of five judges. The cassation must be filed within 30 days of the date the parties were notified of the judgment of the Court of Appeal. All decisions of the Court of Cassation are final and are not subject to object.

Sharia or Islamic courts work alongside the civil and criminal courts in the UAE. The Sharia court is the Islamic court in the UAE and is primarily responsible for the “personal status” matters between Muslims. As a general rule, non-Muslims will not appear before a Sharia court in any matter, nevertheless there is always an exception. Sharia courts have the exclusive jurisdiction to hear family disputes, including matters involving divorce, inheritances, child custody, child abuse and guardianship of minors.

Moreover, the Islamic principles of Sharia as found in the Islamic Sharia textbooks are applied in the absence of any particular provision in the UAE codified law.  

The highest court in the UAE is the Court of Cassation, and it will only proceed with the disputes on matters of law. The Court of Cassation will act as an appellate court with respect to the decisions of lower courts along with supervision of these lower courts to ensure that they are applying and interpreting the law correctly. Thus, the lower courts must abide by the legal principles set down by the Court of Cassation.