Nobody wants to get into litigation, at least willingly, because most of the people living here are law-abiding. However, some get into disputes over issues which drag them to courts which give their judgments according to the law of the land. There are courts at various levels dealing with civil and criminal cases as well as labour
disputes. Mustafa Barakat takes a look at the legal system practiced in the UAE
ACCORDING to the UAE Constitution, each of the seven emirates has its own legislative body and judicial authority. Consequently, there are federal and local courts.
Both the local and federal courts apply the UAE Federal Law, which is enacted by the UAE Federal Legislative Authority as well as laws and regulations passed by the Ruler of individual emirates.
The UAE is a civil law country and follows the civil law system: in matters of procedure, the UAE courts follow the Federal Law of Civil Procedure (No. 11 of 1992) and the Federal Law No. 35 of 1992 in civil and criminal proceedings respectively. Commercial transactions are governed by the UAE Commercial Code of Practice No. 18 of 1993, and civil transactions by the UAE Federal Civil Code of Procedure No. 5 of 1985. In the absence of any specific provisions, usage of Islamic Shariah will apply.
In criminal cases, the UAE courts apply the Federal Penal Code No. 3 of 1987, Traffic Act of 1967 and for Abu Dubai, the Traffic Act of 1968 is adopted.
Judges in both federal and local courts adopt the provisions of laws, established norms and customs as well as Shariah. The judgments rendered by the Supreme Court or Court of Cassation are deemed binding upon lower courts.
Types of courts
In terms of nature, there are civil and Shariah courts in the UAE. The civil courts hear civil and commercial matters while Shariah courts review matters of family law pertaining to issues of divorce, inheritance and succession, alimony and custody of children. Criminal matters are heard by civil courts, while certain crimes may be referred to Shariah courts, yet subject to the provisions of the UAE Federal Penal Code. In terms of category, there are three basic types of courts for staging litigation: Court of First Instance, Appeal Court, and Supreme Court (also called Court of Cassation)
Before filing a claim, a litigant should make sure that the UAE Court has jurisdiction to hear such a claim, as per the requirements of the Civil Code of Procedure. It is possible for the parties to confer jurisdiction on a particular court to entertain disputes. It is established that parties may agree, in writing, to refer disputes to arbitration whether to be held in the UAE or elsewhere.
Steps of proceedings
Proceedings may be instituted by lodging a statement of claim with the Court Office of Clerks of the appropriate court. Such statement normally includes facts of the case as well as Plaintiff's demands. It should be drafted in Arabic accompanied by supporting documents and a power of attorney if a litigant is represented by an advocate.
Upon payment of court fees, as assessed by the Court Office of Clerks, the case will be registered and given a specific number and a hearing schedule. The next step is the serving of notice upon the defendant (summon) by the court bailiff within 10 days from the date of filing the case. The defendant should appear in person or be represented by an attorney, failing which a judgment may be rendered. A plaintiff may amend his statement of claim during the course of action or may even withdraw the claim and discontinue litigation. It is also permissible to implicate other parties as co-defendants.
Generally, most arguments are submitted in writing to the court, yet verbal pleading may be opened at the request of either party and witnesses may be called. Submissions made by the parties and minutes of hearings are filed and made available to both the plaintiff and defendant only. The court may, of its own accord or at the request of either party, appoint an expert as and when required, mostly when technical opinion is sought in accounting or engineering matters.
After exchanging pleadings and submissions, the court will render the judgment. Claims valued below Dh10,000 are decided by a single judge, while those exceeding Dh10,000 will be determined by a three-judge bench under majority.
The judgment can be challenged under appeal, after payment of court fees, within 30 days from the date on which it was rendered. The appeal should be built on points of law or facts. The appeal is processed in similar fashion as in the challenged judgment, and is to be determined by a three-judge bench under majority. The Court of Appeal may uphold or cancel the judgment being appealed, and its judgment can be further challenged before the Supreme Court (Cassation). The Court of Appeal judgment is considered final and valid for execution even if objection is filed before the Court of Cassation, which may suspend execution till the objection is finally decided.
The appeal judgment can be challenged before Cassation Court, after payment of court fees, within 30 days from the date on which it was rendered. The objection should be built on points of law only.
Ten tips to avoid courts
Always take justified actions: To be in a stronger position to claim your rights
Talk to someone in a responsible position: Explain your view to those who can solve your problem and do not be afraid of approaching people in senior positions.
Negotiate and be prepared to compromise: If nothing is achieved, you have nothing to lose; it is important to listen and try. Resort to an outside authority: You can approach standard departments to take up your complaint, even the police can be involved.
Follow established procedures: As per the nature of your problem, it might be dependent on certain procedures, so you should seek more information. Try regulators or watchdogs: Complains should be made formally in writing and answered by the other party. The use of such services does not usually affect your right to take the matter to Court.
Arbitration (tribunal): Many contracts specify resorting to arbitration, or certain tribunals, such as employment contracts which are to be presented to the UAE Ministry of Labour or Rents Tribunal.
Consult others: You may resort to publicity (newspapers) as a tool of threat. Threaten court proceedings: Strong notices always bring about speedy solutions, especially when the other party feels liable for legal costs. Forget it: Where a claim is small as telephone calls, it may not be worth pursuing, it is better just to let it go.