Foreign entrepreneurs located in Dubai often raise questions about the court system that is used for resolving disputes and enforcing contracts in the emirate. In this article, we will shed some light on the main aspects of Dubai’s legal system.
The UAE judicial system
Dubai falls within the scope of the UAE legal system, which is based on civil law. The UAE Federal Constitution is the supreme law of the UAE. The UAE courts resolve issues that are not addressed in the statutes in accordance with the principles of Sharia law.
Dubai court system
Although the UAE has a federal court structure, two emirates, namely Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah, have individual court systems that are not subject to the oversight of the Federal Supreme Court.
The governmental department Dubai Courts encompasses all courts in Dubai. Dubai Courts was founded in 1970. It comprises three types of courts, namely, (1) First Instance Court, (2) Appeal Court and (3) Cassation Court.
The judicial proceedings before Dubai Courts can be divided into the following three categories: (1) civil proceedings (e.g. claiming compensation for a wrongdoing); (2) criminal proceedings; and (3) proceedings related to personal affairs (e.g. requesting alimony, divorce, and guardianship).
Since Arabic is the official language in the Dubai Courts, all court proceedings have to be conducted in Arabic. Furthermore, all evidence should be in Arabic and the hearings of witnesses, opponents, and other participants who are non-Arabic speakers have to be verbally interpreted in Arabic by a sworn interpreter.
Although Dubai Courts provides free-of-charge interpretation services, the litigants are responsible for the costs of translating and legalising their written evidence.
If such evidence originates from outside the UAE, it must be attested by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A legal case can pass through the following three judiciary stages:
- First Instance Courts. Court proceedings in Dubai begin in the First Instance Court. It has two branches: Shariah branch and civil branch. The Shariah branch is responsible for examining cases that refer to personal matters. The civil branch is comprised of a Civil Court and a Criminal Court. The Civil Court examines civil, commercial, and labor cases. The Criminal Court deals with crimes, violations, and misdemeanor.
- Appeal Court. The rulings of the First Instance Court may be appealed before the Appeal Court. The Appeal Court does not accept cases which involve a claim for money that does not exceed AED 20.000 (approximately EUR 5.120).
- Cassation Court. Cassation Court is the highest ranked court in Dubai’s judicial system. The Cassation Court is responsible for the interpretation of the laws of Dubai, among other duties. The Cassation Court reviews decisions made by the Appeal Court in civil, criminal, and personal affairs cases.
How to register a case at Dubai Courts?
In order to commence court proceedings in Dubai, the claimant should (1) submit a claim to the registration department of the First Instance Court and (2) pay the applicable fees.
Most commercial claims can be submitted online through the website of Dubai Courts. The fees for submitting a claim depend on the type of the dispute and the level of the court to which the claim is submitted.
For example, the Court of First Instance charges a filing fee of 7,5% of the disputed amount.
The claim should include information about the claimant and the defendant, the facts of the case, and the remedies sought.
After registering the claim, the court will inform the claimant and the defendant about the dates when the hearings will be held. The hearings have to be attended by the claimant and the defendant or their legal representatives.
Alternative dispute resolution
According to a report published by the World Bank Group, commercial proceedings before Dubai Courts last about 500 days. In order to speed up the resolution of their disputes, entrepreneurs may choose alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, including arbitration and mediation.
Two out of three UAE arbitration centers are located in Dubai, namely, the Dubai International Arbitration Centre (DIAC) and the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Arbitration Centre.
In addition to quick dispute resolution (usually, an arbitral award is announced within six month from the request for arbitration), the DIAC and the DIFC Arbitration Centre provide disputants with the opportunity to opt for English-language arbitration.