United Arab Emirates ("UAE") is a Federation established in
1971 in the area previously known as the Trucial Coast in the
Arabian Gulf. Seven Emirates, namely:
Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain, Ajman
formed the Federation. In establishing the UAE, the Rulers
of the seven Emirates agreed a Provisional Constitution ("the
Constitution"), which provided the legal framework for the
Federation. The Constitution provided for the establishment
of the Supreme Council of the Rulers of all the Emirates as
the foremost authority in the Federation and a Council of
Ministers as the Executive Branch of the Federation. Federal
Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defence, Justice, Public Health,
Communications, Information, Interior, Finance and Industry,
Economy and Commerce, Education, Public Works, Agriculture,
Labour and Social Affairs and Planning were established.
a Muslim country, one of the fundamental principles enshrined
in the Constitution provides that Islamic Law (Sharia)
is the main source for legislation in the UAE. The Federal
Government is entrusted with the task of promulgating legislation
concerning and regulating the principal and central aspects
of the Federation. These include foreign affairs, defence,
security, the federal judicial system, federal finance and
loans, postal and communication services, federal public works,
civil aviation, education, public health, currency, electricity
services, nationality and related matters, management of federal
possessions, census and federal information.
Constitution further emphasises that Federal Laws are to be
promulgated to regulate labour and social services, real estate
and its expropriation in the public interest, agriculture
and animal wealth, substantive civil and criminal legislation,
company laws, laws of procedure, protection of intellectual
property, aviation, delineation of waters and regulation of
shipping on the high seas. Another constitutional principle
adopted by the Federation in accordance with the provisions
of the Constitution was that whilst jurisdiction for promulgating
substantive legislation was confined to the Federal Government,
the local governments of the seven Emirates were authorised
to regulate local matters that were not confined to the Federal
to the establishment of the UAE each of the seven Emirates
regulated its own affairs by passing local laws and regulations,
including legislation establishing and regulating a judicial
system. For example the Emirate of Abu Dhabi promulgated a
Law in 1968 establishing and regulating the Abu Dhabi Courts.
It also promulgated the Law of Procedure at the Civil Courts
No. (3) of 1970, and the Law of Procedure at the Criminal
Courts of 1970. Dubai promulgated a Law establishing its Courts
in 1970 and Fujairah followed suit in 1969. Ajman, Sharjah,
Ras Al Khaimah and Umm Al Quwain established their Courts
by Laws passed in 1971. Some of the local laws that were promulgated
prior to the Federation still prevail today and will continue
to be applicable unless and until they are repealed by Federal
of the main features of the Federation is the establishment
of a Federal judicial system. At the pinnacle of this system,
the Constitution provided for the establishment of a Federal
Supreme Court (colloquially referred to as the "Court of Cassation")
as the highest judicial authority in the land and specified
its functions and operations. Subsequently Federal Laws were
promulgated detailing the functions and operations of the
Federal Supreme Court. The constitution further provided for
the establishment of lower Federal Courts.
Federal Supreme Court, which should be based in the Federal
Capital of the UAE, is head quartered in the city of Abu Dhabi.
Initially, there was some doubt as to the legal basis of establishing
a Federal Court of Appeal. This was later clarified by a decision
of the Federal Supreme Court interpreting the relevant provisions
of the Constitution as allowing the establishment of such
Courts of Appeal. Thus, the UAE Federal judicial system consists
of three stages of litigation in both Civil and Criminal Courts,
namely, Courts of First Instance, Courts of Appeal and the
Federal Supreme Court.
accordance with the Constitution, each of the seven Emirates
retained the right to choose either to participate in the
Federal Legal System or to maintain its own legal system.
Four Emirates, namely, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman and Fujairah,
opted to incorporate their judicial systems into the Federal
system. The Emirate of Umm Al Quwain initially opted to retain
its independent system but in 1991 opted to join the Federal
judicial system. Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah maintain their own
independent systems. These Emirates initially based their
judicial systems on two stages of litigation. The Emirate
of Dubai later established a Court of Cassation in addition
to its Courts of First Instance and Appeal. Although Dubai
still retains its judicial system it has decided that the
Federal Civil Procedures Law No. (11) of 1992 shall be applied
in its Civil Courts.
the legal systems of the Middle Eastern Islamic Arab countries
were based on Islamic Law (Sharia).
Sharia (religious) Courts formed the judicial cornerstone
of these countries. The modernisation of the majority of the
legal systems in these countries at the beginning of the twentieth
century, led to the establishment of Civil Courts which were
generally granted the competence to review civil transactions
as well as commercial and other types of disputes. Separate
Criminal Courts were also established. Matters of personal
status such as marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance
remained with the Sharia Courts whose judges were trained
in Islamic Law and Jurisprudence. Some Islamic Arab countries
such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia maintained their legal
systems which were, and still are, based on Islamic Law. Their
judiciary is organised on the basis of the Sharia Courts.
the UAE the establishment of the Civil and Criminal Courts
resulted in diminishing the role of the Sharia Courts. Nevertheless,
the competence of the Sharia Courts in some Emirates, particularly
Abu Dhabi, was substantially expanded later on to include,
in addition to matters of personal status, all types of civil
and commercial disputes as well as serious criminal offences.
Therefore, in addition to the Civil Courts, each of the seven
Emirates maintains a parallel system of Sharia Courts which
are organised and supervised locally.
the comparatively short period since its establishment, the
UAE has made important strides in regulating some of the vital
legal aspects of its rapidly expanding economy. The Labour
Law No. (8) of 1980, the Agency Law No. (18) of 1981, the
Maritime Law No. (26) of 1981, Commercial Companies Law No.
(8) of 1984 ("the Company Law") which will be discussed in
this book, Insurance Law No. (9) of 1984, Civil Transactions
Law No. (5) of 1985 ("the Civil Code") and the Penal Code
Law No. (3) of 1987 were promulgated.
the past few years several other very important laws were
also promulgated such as the Penal Code Law No. (3) of 1987,
the Law of Criminal Procedure Law No. (35) of 1992, Law of
Evidence (Proof) in Civil and Commercial Transactions No.
(10) of 1992, the Civil Procedure at the Federal Courts Law
No. (11) of 1992, the Trade Marks Law No. (37) of 1992, the
Law for the Protection of Intellectual Property and Author's
Rights No. (40) of 1992, the Regulation and Protection of
Industrial Property of Patents, Drawings and Industrial Designs
Law No. (44) of 1992 and the Commercial Transactions Law No.
(18) of 1993.
countries that had opted for the adoption of codified civil
laws rather than a legal system similar to the Common Law
system which is generally based on judicial precedents, legislation
plays an extremely important role. In a jurisdiction, such
as the UAE, which constitutionally adopted Islamic Law (Sharia)
as its main source of legislation and whose legal system is
generally based thereon, the significance of the aforementioned
progress in legislation is further emphasised. This is mainly
due to two interrelated well established principles of Islamic
interpretation is not allowed in matters covered by specific
In the absence of a specific law, courts
applying Islamic Law are obliged to adopt the general principles
of Islamic jurisprudence and justice. In applying these general
principles, a judge is not bound by the decisions rendered
by other judges, nor is he bound by his own previous decisions.
Precedents in Islamic Law are not considered binding and do
not form part of the legislative process.
legal principles were confirmed in Majalat Al-Ahkam Al-Adlia
("Al Majala"), the Civil Code of the Ottoman State which was
based on Islamic Law. Al Majala was derived mainly from the
Hanfi Sect, compiled by jurists and promulgated in Istanbul
in 1286 H (i.e. 1836 ). It was applied in most Arab countries
that were under the Ottoman rule until the First World War.
After their independence these countries continued to apply
Al Majala, until they promulgated their own civil codes. Al
Majala is still considered an extremely important reference
in Islamic Law. The principle of precedents was dealt with
in Al Majala where it was provided that 'an opinion cannot
be refuted by another' which is explained therein to mean
that each case should be judged on its own merits.
as indicated earlier, the Constitution stipulated that Islamic
Law (Sharia) is a main source of legislation in the UAE, it
nevertheless provided that decisions of the Federal Supreme
Court are binding on all concerned. Consequently, although
the decisions of the Federal Supreme Court are not considered
to form a part of the legislative process they are extremely
important, and definitely serve as an indicator to the Law
and its interpretations in this jurisdiction. A practical
difficulty though can arise in ascertaining the decisions
of the Federal Supreme Court and other Appeal Courts: although
the Federal Ministry of Justice publishes a quarterly periodical
which includes legal articles as well as the important recent
decisions of the courts, classified law reporting is not available
to facilitate the task of a judge, lawyer or researcher as
to what the interpretation of a specific rule of law might
further information on UAE Company Law and Practice,
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