Does Non-Payment of Civil Claim Lead to Imprisonment

14 May 2022

A frequently asked question is what action can be taken against a defendant if he fails to pay a civil claim even after the judgment of the court to do so. Can he be jailed for non-payment in a civil case?

Article 69 to Article 190 of the Federal Civil Procedure Law and its amendments defines the procedures for the enforcement of judgments in the UAE. When the civil court has issued a final and enforceable judgment, the plaintiff can approach the Execution Court for the execution of the judgment. The Execution Court has the authority to inspect and seize the property and force the defendant to pay the claim amount. And the court shall issue a notice to the defendant for the payment of the judgment amount within 15 days from the date of service of the notice.

If the defendant does not make the payment within 15 days, the execution court can take the following actions against the defendant:

  • Attachment and sale of the moveable properties of the defendant,
  • Seize of stocks, bonds, and shares of the defendant,
  • Seizure and sale of the immovable properties,
  • Bankruptcy proceedings, which is unusual but with the new Bankruptcy Law, more bankruptcy proceedings can be filed, 
  • And in exceptional cases, imprisonment of the defendant or detention or travel ban will be imposed. 


Under what circumstances does civil imprisonment or detention take place?

The Execution court has the authority to issue an order of imprisonment against the defendant who has failed to carry out a coercive order against him.  Article 183 (1) of the Federal Civil Procedure Law defines that, an execution court has the authority to issue an imprisonment order of a defendant if he or she has failed to execute the judgment of execution, and the debtor is not insolvent. And Article 106 of the Law states that a debtor is not considered insolvent if it is evidenced that he or she has only funds that cannot be seized or sold.

At the request of the plaintiff, the judge may order the defendant to be detained for a renewable period of one month, which may not be extended to three years. Before making such an order, the judge will investigate the financial situation of the defendant if the documents backing up this claim by the plaintiff are insufficient. The judge can also permit the defendant a period of six months to clear his or her debts or can grant the defendant to pay the amount in installments over a period of not more than three years with a set of precautionary measures like a travel ban which prohibits the defendant from leaving the country without the permission of the court.

Under Article 185, the detention of a debtor cannot be made in cases where the debt amount is less than AED 10,000, the debtor provides a bank guarantee or security acceptable by the execution court to repay the debt on time, or the debtor is under the age of 18 years or over70 years old, or have a child under the age of 15 and the person’s spouse has died, or if the debtor suffers from a chronic, incurable illness, or any temporary illness which is not subject to imprisonment, or if the debtor is pregnant.

At the end of the three-year prison term, the judgment debt gets terminated. In addition, termination of such imprisonment order can be provided if the plaintiff has accepted the termination order, if the obligation of the debtor to fulfill this order has expired for any reason, or if any one of the impairments mentioned in Article 185 has arisen.



The imprisonment of a defendant is a possible legal remedy that an execution court may order in exceptional situations. The basic condition to order the imprisonment of a defendant is to prove that the debtor has failed to function effectively and is non-insolvent. This leaves the enforcement authority with discretion to apply such an action taking into account the conditions under which such detention is not permitted. In such cases, the defendant should seek advice from experienced legal experts to avoid more legal complications.