UAE Legal System

Legal System:

The United Arab Emirates is a federation comprising seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain, Ajman, Sharjah, and Fujairah. The federal capital of the UAE is Abu Dhabi. The UAE Constitution (that provisionally came into effect on 2 December 1971 and permanently accepted in May 1996) governs all affairs, including the distribution of legislative powers between the federation and each emirate. According to the UAE’s Constitution, the federal laws in the UAE have supremacy over the individual emirates’ laws. Nevertheless, each individual is allowed to make their own laws in areas other than those that are expressly reserved to the federation to enact legislation. The emirates can enact legislation in areas where the federation has not yet legislated on. Federal laws, generally, govern civil and commercial matters except for property law. The legislation expands to major laws that regulate general laws and provide law principles, including criminal, civil, commercial, banking, immigration, civil procedure, maritime, intellectual property, industrial, employment, to name a few.


The legal system of the UAE is based on civil law principles, and it is greatly influenced by Egyptian law and Islamic shariah law primarily. The UAE judiciary does not follow the precedent system; however, judgments of higher courts have a substantial effect on lower courts, and lower courts apply judgments of higher courts if they consider it appropriate. Judges are independent in dispensing justice; they are free of the influence of any authority. The Ministry of Justice regulates the judicial system at the federal level, and it is authorized to appoint judges, grant licenses to lawyers, legal translators, and legal experts.


Judicial Structure

The judicial structure in the UAE runs in two systems, the federal judiciary, and local judicial departments. The Federal Supreme Court heads the federal judiciary. The Ministry of Justice supervises courts and prosecution departments throughout the UAE. The UAE Constitution Articles 94 to 109 general outline principles for these two systems and gives discretion to local authorities regarding details. All the emirates are free to choose between the federal judiciary and can uphold their local judicial system. The emirates of Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, and Umm Al Quwain have adopted the federal judicial system. While Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Ras Al Khaimah maintain their local judicial system, such as Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, Dubai Courts, Ras Al Khaimah Courts on the local level.


The local judicial system has jurisdiction in matters that are not vested in the federal system by the Constitution. The local emirate court’s jurisdiction can be referred to the first instance court of the federal courts as per Article 105 of the Constitution. The local courts do not have the authority to take away the jurisdiction of federal courts. Federal Law Number 11 of 1973 regulates judicial relations between the emirates. Articles 99 and 102 of the Constitution outline the details of the jurisdiction of federal courts and explain which matters or disputes shall be heard at the federal level by the Federal Supreme Court not by the local emirate courts at local levels. The federal law also defines the circumstances in which the appeals against the judgments of local courts in matters such as penal, civil, commercial, or other cases can be made before the federal courts. The Federal Judiciary in the UAE is a fully independent authority as per the UAE Constitution. It comprises Federal Supreme Court, Federal Courts, Public Prosecution. The Federal Judiciary in the UAE came into force by Federal Law Number 10 of 1973, with the formation of the Federal Supreme Court.


The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court consists of five judges. The UAE president appoints the judges after the approval of the Federal Supreme Council. The judgments of the Supreme court are binding on all the subordinate authorities and are final in nature. The President should approve death sentences or substitute the punishment with a lesser one according to the procedure. The President has the authority to grant pardon from executing a sentence passed by the Federal judiciary.


The Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction in matters such as:



Federal Courts

To exercise the judicial power in the jurisdiction of the federal capital and other emirates in matters pertaining to civil, commercial, administrative disputes, crimes committed within the jurisdiction, the UAE has established one or more federal courts of the first instance in the federal capital and some emirates’ capitals.


Public Prosecution

Public Prosecution is another department of the Federal Judiciary. According to the Constitution, a Public Prosecutor shall be appointed by a federal decree in the federation with the Cabinet’s approval. Federal Law Number 35 of 1992 regarding the Criminal Procedural Law as amended outlines the jurisdiction of the Public Prosecution, the procedure, its powers over the police, and public security services.



In the UAE, there are three levels of courts, Court of First Instance (federal and local level), Court of Appeal (federal and local level), Supreme Court (only at the federal level), and Court of Cassation (an independent department at the local level in each emirate). This system of courts is established to provide adequate service to the affected party to get justice and proper relief. If any party is not satisfied by the judgment of the Court of First Instance, it can file an appeal in the Court of Appeal, then it can challenge the judgment of Court Appeal in the Court of Cassation under the provisions of Federal Law Number 11 of 1992, as revised by Law Number 10 of 2014 concerning the Civil Procedural Law.


Court of First Instance

It is a first-degree court of litigation. The court of First Instance can hear all matters regarding civil, commercial, labor, administrative, personal status. It is empowered to examine claims, authentication of documents, all urgent matters related to disputes among the people, and safeguard their rights. It is also authorized to enforce judicial execution deeds and executions by deputation or reference.


Court of Appeal

This court is the second-degree court of litigation, which permits the litigant affected by the Court of First Instance judgment to appeal his/her case before a higher court under the provisions of the civil and criminal procedural laws operative in the UAE. Only the convicted may appeal the court judgment; thus, if anyone who accepts the ruling explicitly or implicitly is not entitled to file an appeal against that order.


The time limit to challenge a judgment starts when judgment is issued, except the law provides otherwise. 30 days is the time limit for appeal against the judgment of a lower court except otherwise provided by the law, and in urgent cases, the time limit is ten days. If the aggrieved party does not adhere to the time limit to file an appeal against the Court of First Instance order, its right to appeal would be no more in operation.


Court of Cassation

The Court of Cassation is the apex judicial body with jurisdiction to deal with the appeals made against the judgments of lower courts of the Court of Appeals. It administers the interpretation of laws and their proper implementation. In the Court of Cassation, the litigants are allowed to contest the matter regarding points of law only, such as abuse of law or on flawed application or interpretation of the law. The appeal against the Court of Appeals judgment must be filed within 60 days of issuance of the judgment if the value claimed exceeds AED 200,000 or cannot be assessed.


All decisions of the Court of Cassation are final and binding and are not subject to appeal. The emirates of Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, and Umm Al Quwain have adopted the federal judicial system. However, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Ras Al Khaimah maintain their own local judicial system.


Court System in Dubai

The judicial system of Dubai is based on three levels. The First Instance Court, the Court of Appeals, and the Court of Cassation. Dubai has two sets of judicial systems; in the mainland, it has other courts, and in the financially free zones, there are separate courts and laws to regulate the legal matters in the jurisdiction of free zones. We will shed light on both systems of courts; let us begin with the mainland court system.


Court of First Instance

The Court of First Instance is the primary court of litigation in the judicial system of Dubai. It was established in Dubai by Administrative Decision Number 57 of 5/15/2008 by the order of the ruler of Dubai. The courts were established to provide justice, security to the rights of people living in the emirate. Under the ambit of the Court of First Instance, several specialized Courts of First Instance were established with their president and judicial departments each. The Courts of First Instance are the following;



Civil Court

Civil Court is one of the six specialized courts of the first instance and specializes in examining cases outside of the jurisdiction of other specialized courts, including compensation, accidents, and medical errors. It is also competent to hear cases related to the administrative judiciary. Its departments are made up of partial circuits and are made up of a single judge and are specialized in cases whose value is less than AED 500,000, and overall departments formed of three judges are competent to hear cases whose value exceeds AED 500,000 and lawsuits whose value is not assessed.


Commercial Court

This court is concerned with commercial lawsuits, which are the cases that the plaintiffs aim to protect legal positions or financial or in-kind rights arising from business or commercial transactions under their spirit or by virtue of practicing in a professional manner or as a result of commercial actions and transactions, as long as those disputed rights are not related to the ties Labor or personal status, inheritance and endowment. A commercial lawyer can help guide one to understand commercial lawsuits and protect one’s legal position. The commercial court consists of total and partial circuits. The circuits differ according to the type of cases, for example, commercial contract suits, intellectual property lawsuits, bank suits, companies, and commercial establishments lawsuits, commercial papers suits, commercial agency lawsuits, exclusive distribution, maritime and air disputes, arbitration cases, bankruptcy, and final commercial cases whose value is less than an amount of AED 20,000 and settlements of the case management office. The entire commercial departments are composed of three judges headed by the senior-most judge among them, and they hear commercial lawsuits with an unrecognized value, cases whose value exceeds the sum of AED 500,000, and counter cases, regardless of their value. The partial commercial circuit consists of a single judge and hears commercial cases whose value is less than AED 500,000 and counter-cases, irrespective of their value.


Criminal Court

The Criminal Court regulates and administers the jurisdiction of misdemeanors, felonies, and all the violations referred by the Public Prosecution. Violations and misdemeanors are dealt with by the circuits composed of one judge only, whereas felonies are dealt with by the departments comprising three judges headed by one of them. The Public Prosecution Office is responsible for implementing the decisions, judgments, and orders of the Criminal Court. The Criminal Court has various branches such as Nationality and Residence Court, the Traffic and Traffic Court, the Criminal and Misdemeanors Court, and the Juvenile Court.


The Appellate Court

Appellate Court is the second-degree court of litigation. It has jurisdiction to hear an appeal made against the Court of First Instance judgments in civil, criminal, commercial, real estate, labor status matters, etc. The pecuniary jurisdiction of the court is AED 20,000 and above. This court is composed of three judges headed by one of them. At the time of filing the appeal, the appellant is required to deposit a mortgage of AED 2,000 in the safe of the appellate court.


The time limitation for filing an appeal is 30 days unless the law specifies otherwise, and for summary matters, the time limit is ten days. The appeal shall be filed in the form of a memorandum in the case management office at the competent court of appeal. The appeal should be accompanied by all the required documents and their copies according to the number of respondents and one set for the case management office. If the Appellate court finds the decision or procedure null, it can decide its cancellation and judge in the action. It can return the case to the court of the first instance if it finds any hindrance or lack of jurisdiction in deciding any matter; it can cancel the decision and return the matter to the court of the first instance to decide in its matter. The rules and procedures applied on the action before the court of the first instance should be applied on the appeal, except the law instructs otherwise.


The Court of Cassation

The Court of Cassation is the apex court in the emirate of Dubai. Its duties and responsibilities are outlined in Articles 173 to 188 of the Civil Procedure Law Number 11 of 1992 and the Judicial Authority Law Number 13 of 2016 in Articles 19 to 22. The Chambers of Court of Cassation consist of the president and five judges. The chambers of the Court of Cassation hear appeals filed against the judgments of appellate courts in criminal matters, civil, labor, real estate, and name a few having an action value more than two hundred thousand dirhams or the value is not assessed in the following circumstances can file;


An appeal can be filed in the Court of Cassation within sixty days of judgment. The appellant shall file the appeal in the form of a memorandum in the case management office of the court of cassation. The appellant shall deposit three thousand dirhams as a mortgage. The appellant shall submit some copies along with the memorandum for the respondents and a power of attorney for his attorney to undertake the appeal proceedings. If the appeal lacks the primary requirements of appeal, it can be rejected; the court shall dismiss it in writing. The respondent needs to file a defense memorandum within fifteen days of receiving notice from the court.


There is no option of appeal available against the decision of the Court of Cassation; only a petition of reexamining can be filed in the court. The same rules shall be applied to the appeal that was applied before the appellate court appeal, and the decision should not contradict provisions of law.


The Dubai International Financial Centre Courts (DIFC Courts)

In the emirate of Dubai, DIFC is an economic free zone that has its laws and regulations and have its own courts to regulate the legal matters arising out in commercial and civil matters in the entities located in the vicinity of the DIFC or entities outside of DIFC opted for its court’s jurisdiction to deal with disputes. The DIFC Law 10 of 2004 (DIFC Courts Law) governs the DIFC courts. It provides DIFC courts an independent administration of justice as per Dubai Laws 9 of 2004 and 12 of 2004. Like the mainland Dubai courts, the DIFC courts are also categorized into different levels, such as Small Claims Tribunal, Court of First Instance, Court of Appeal.


Small Claims Tribunal (SCT)

The Small Claims Tribunal was established in 2007. The SCT can hear claims in the DIFC jurisdiction in three conditions, firstly, in case of the amount of claim does not exceed AED 500,000; secondly, the claim is regarding employment or the former employment of a party and, the parties to dispute collectively opt the SCT to hear their claim and the amount of the claim exceeds AED 500,000. There is no limit of value for the parties to employment claims elect in writing the SCT as a forum for hearing their claims. Thirdly, if the claim is not related to employment, the claim’s value shall not be more than AED 1 million. The minimum fee for filing employment and all other claims is USD 100.


Court of First Instance

The Court of First Instance is made of a single judge, and it has exclusive jurisdiction over the civil and commercial disputes in the DIFC jurisdiction, the civil or commercial disputes or cases arising from or related to the contracts fulfilled or carried out entirely or partly in the DIFC. It has jurisdiction over the decisions made by the DIFC bodies. Any civil or commercial claim where the parties agree in writing to file a claim in the Court of First Instance. The fee for filing claims in this court is USD 5,000.


Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal comprises three judges, presided by the Chief Justice or the senior-most judge. The Court of appeal has exclusive jurisdiction over the appeals filed against the Court of First Instance judgments. It is authorized to interpret any article of the DIFC laws requested by any DIFC’s bodies. The interpretation has the power of law. The judgment and decision of the Court of Appeal are final, and no appeal is available against its judgments. The fee for filing the appellant’s or respondent’s notice is USD 5,000.


The DIFC courts do not have jurisdiction over criminal disputes where such disputes are referred to Dubai Police and other Dubai Criminal Courts.


Abu Dhabi Judicial System:

Abu Dhabi has its judicial department, and the courts’ authority consists of the Court of the First Instance, Courts of Appeal, and the Court of Cassation. The specialized courts can be established on the recommendation of the Judicial Council for specific disputes.


Courts of First Instance

These are the primary courts in the emirate of Abu Dhabi that have general jurisdiction in all matters except for what is excluded by law. The courts of the first instance consist of college departments composed of three judges, and the partial ones consist of a single judge, and it is considered one of the largest courts in the country because of its number of departments and size of cases.


The Appellate Court

The Court of Appeal is the second-level court of litigation in Abu Dhabi. The litigants can file an appeal against the judgment of the Court of First Instance in all types of lawsuits. The appellate court consists of many chambers, out of which three chambers are for adjudication of appeals against the court’s judgment of the first instance. Its specialization spreads over civil, criminal, commercial, labor, personal and administrative departments.


The Court of Cassation

It is the highest-level court in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. It is competent to hear appeals against the judgment of the court of appeals. It also has jurisdiction to hear matters regarding conflicts of jurisdiction between the emirate’s courts.


Public Prosecution

This department is a part of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Authority. It initiates and takes actions against cases and acts as a representative of society. It also ensures the fulfillment of justice and the rule of law. After the investigation and accusation, the prosecution department moves criminal cases and refers the accused person to the competent court if his/her accusation is confirmed. It follows the progress of cases in court until the ruling is issued. The Prosecution department implements judgments or decisions issued by criminal courts. The public prosecution department comprises the Attorney General at the top, advocates general, senior advocates general, prosecutors, and prosecutors’ directors (chief prosecutors).


Abu Dhabi Global Market Courts (ADGM Courts)

The ADGM courts provide a legal framework based on Common Law to decide civil and commercial disputes in the ADGM independently. The Application of the English Common Law Regulations 2015 has provided the legal foundation to the ADGM courts. These regulations are directly applicable to the ADGM. The ADGM courts are composed of a Court of First Instance, a Court of Appeal. The rulings of the Court of Appeal are final, and it is non-appealable. The ADGM Courts do not have jurisdiction over criminal and family matters.


Court of First Instance

Following are the three divisions of the Court of First Instance; the divisions have complete jurisdiction of the court of the first instance


The Commercial and Civil Division:

This division has jurisdiction to hear and determine the commercial and civil claims, insolvency claims except the claims where the value of a claim is less than USD 100,000; claims arising out of family disputes; claims regarding enforcement of any employment-related claim/ of any right or obligation under the Employment Regulations 2019.


The Employment Division:

The Employment Division has jurisdiction to hear and determine the claims regarding enforcement of employment-related rights and obligations under Employment Regulation 2019 or the enforcement of any claim related to employment.


The Small Claims Division:

The Small Claims Division has jurisdiction to hear and determine any claim or dispute under, or according to, the Regulations or any other ADGM enactment except claims arising out of family proceedings, judicial review proceedings, or arbitration claims, claims value exceeding USD 100,000.