The key code that regulates civil procedure and the legal process in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the Civil Procedure Law, along with the Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law. The Civil Procedure Law along with the Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law extend to cases brought before onshore UAE Courts. The two courts of Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts, as well as the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) Courts each, have their own set of legal rules to follow. Procedure in the DIFC Courts is governed by the DIFC Courts Law of 2004 and the Rules of DIFC Courts of 2014. All proceedings in the ADGM are governed by the ADGM Court Procedure Rules 2016. In addition, the DIFC Courts and the ADGM Courts have released a set of practice directions to supplement the Court’s rules. The ADGM Courts are based on the English legal system and identify as common-law courts. They are a part of both the ADGM and the judicial system of Abu Dhabi; the courts adjudicate civil and economic cases. Amongst the most civil law Middle East region, the ADGM Courts have a common law system. Furthermore, English law is directly applied in the ADGM, making it the Middle East’s first jurisdiction application of English law.
With three independent authorities operating within the free zone, each authority focuses on the legislation that pertains to their area of expertise. There are three levels of law in this country. The Federal Legislation of the UAE is at the top level. The direct implementation of English common law and certain English laws under the Application of English Law Regulations 2015 is a significant recent advancement in the ADGM, as mentioned above. This is a major qualification, and how it will work in practice needs to be specific. The strict implementation of English law in the ADGM is majorly different from the DIFC’s legal system. Although the DIFC’s laws are primarily based on English law, it has not been applied directly in the DIFC. The Abu Dhabi Legislation includes; Law Number 4 of 2013 establishes the governance, legislative, and regulatory framework, as well as the activities to be carried out in ADGM. Apart from these, the other laws under the decision of the ADGM’s internal authority include:
a) ADGM Courts Regulations and Rules, 2015
b) ADGM Courts Procedures, 2016
c) Arbitration Regulations, 2015
d) Commercial Regulations, 2015
e) FSRA Regulations and Rules
The ADGM Courts are one of three world-class and independent authorities under ADGM that support Abu Dhabi’s commitment to creating an innovative, effective, and dynamic market climate that fosters continuous economic development. The ADGM Courts have been fully functioning since 2016, with a judiciary composed of highly experienced judges from the world’s leading common law jurisdictions. Civil and commercial cases are handled by the ADGM Courts, consisting of a Court of First Instance and a Court of Appeal. ADGM Courts are “digital” by nature, continually innovating, and their e-platform continues to develop the engagement and implementation of judicial and dispute resolution services.
The Court of First Instance has jurisdiction for The Court of First Instance has jurisdiction for cases relating to:
i. civil and commercial matters and disputes involving the ADGM;
ii. all of the ADGM’s Authorities;
iii. or any company registered and authorized to operate within the ADGM;
iv. civil or commercial disputes arising from or related to a contract or transaction concluded entirely or partially in the ADGM;
v. an incident that occurred in the ADGM.
Cases with claims in excess of USD 100,000 fall under the jurisdiction of the Civil Division. It also hears appeals related to judgments of the Small Claims Division and reviews decisions made by the ADGM Authorities. There are six different categories of claim forms in the ADGM Courts. Before the Civil Division of the Court of First Instance, any case filed must use Form CFI-1 as their standard claim form. The claim form must contain the particulars of the claim before it is filed. Within four months of the claim being filed, service of the claim form must be duly completed. The defendant must then file an acknowledgment of service within 14 days of receiving service of the claim form, which must be served on the claimant as well. The defendant has 28 days from the date of service of the claim to file a defense. For claims filed
(1) before the Small Claims Division (Form CFI-2), where the value of the claim would not exceed US$100,000, or an employment claim that all parties agree is treated as a small claim; (2) wherein the claim is unlikely to include a substantial dispute of fact, known as the ‘Rule 30 Procedure’ (Form CFI-2);
(3) where the claimant is seeking judicial review of an ADGM ruling or enactment (Form CFI-4); (4) in which the claimant seeks implementation of an arbitration award (Form CFI-5).
The Court of Appeal has the jurisdiction
(a) to take into consideration appeals from the Court of First Instance’s judgments or decisions and
(b) to interpret any articles of the ADGM laws and regulations.
The right to appeal a judgment given by the Civil and Employment Divisions is not automatic. A party should apply for permission to appeal the said judgment, either to the Court of First Instance or Court of Appeal. An appeal is to be made on a question of law in the case of a Small Claims Division’s judgment. The judgments of the Court of Appeal are binding and cannot be appealed. The ADGM Courts hear tort cases, personal injury cases, judicial review cases, commercial and contract disputes. Furthermore, the Court also hears cases relating to the application regarding the recognition and enforcement of arbitral awards. Of course, the ADGM Courts’ jurisdiction is not unlimited. ADGM Courts do not hear criminal cases and family cases relating to divorce, guardianship, personal status, inheritance, and alimony which are the matters solely governed by the Sharia.