The judicial system of United Arab Emirates operates at two levels. It operates at a federal level and a local level. At the local level, the relevant Emirates have their own court system and judicial departments, whereas the judiciary at the federal level controls the courts and departments across the UAE.
The degrees of courts which are available to the public (at both federal and local level), through which justice can be sought, are the following:
1) The Court of First Instance.
2) Court of Appeal.
3) Court of Cassation at the local level. The federal judiciary is headed by the Federal Supreme Court which is the highest judiciary authority in the UAE.
According to Article 104 of the Constitution of the UAE, the local judiciary bodies in each Emirate shall have jurisdiction in all judicial matters that have not been entrusted to the Federal judiciary by virtue of the Constitution.
Accordingly, Emirates like Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al-Khaimah follow their own local court system and have established their independent judicial departments. On the other hand, Emirates of Sharjah, Fujairah, Ajman and Umm Al Quwain are part of the Federal court system.
A decision issued by the Court of First Instance, which is the primary court, may be appealed to the Court of Appeal. The judgement issued by the Court of Appeal could be further appealed to the Cassation Court or the Federal Supreme Court on limited grounds.
Court of First Instance
The Courts of First Instance have the right to consider civil, commercial, administrative, labour and personal status disputes. For criminal matters, the criminal courts (consisting of either 1 judge or 3 judges) will have jurisdiction to examine cases of misdemeanors, petty offenses and felonies.
Court of Appeal
The judgements and decisions issued by the Court of First Instance may be appealed before the Court of Appeal. Under Article 158 of the Civil Procedures Law, the appeal may be filed due to breach of the jurisdiction related to public policy, invalidity in the judgement or the procedures which has affected the judgment or decision, amongst others.
For criminal matters, the accused and the public prosecution may appeal the judgement rendered by the criminal courts of first degree. In accordance with Article 230 of the Criminal Procedure Law, the appeal will not result in staying the execution of the appealed judgement unless otherwise decided by the court which issued it.
Court of Cassation
Appeal may be filed before the Cassation Court against the decision issued by the Court of Appeal in certain cases under 173 of the Civil Procedure Law. For instance, if the appealed judgment was based on breach of law or mistake in its interpretation or application, or was issued contrary to the rules of jurisdiction or the decision lacked reasons, had inadequacy or was ambiguous, amongst others.
For criminal matters, public prosecution or the condemned party may challenge the decision rendered by the Court of Appeal in a felony or misdemeanour before the Cassation court on specified grounds as set out in Article 244 of the Criminal Procedure Law. These include where the challenged judgment is based on a violation of the law or a mistake in its application or interpretation, or if two contradictory judgments have been rendered on the same act, or if the judgment is void of any justification or if it is insufficient or obscure, etc.
Special courts have also been established under the UAE judicial system which deal with specific types of cases. These include labour courts, family courts, commercial courts, etc. These courts hear the matter which falls within their scope of expertise.
Disputes to be heard by the Federal Supreme Courts
According to Article 99 of the Constitution of the UAE, there are certain disputes which will have to be heard by the Federal Supreme Court. These include disputes between member Emirates or between an Emirate and the Federal Government, examination of the constitutionality of the Federal laws as challenged by an Emirate, interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution, crimes directly affecting the interests of the UAE including crimes relating to internal or external security, forgery of official records, etc., amongst others.
The UAE judicial system is proactive, effective and expeditiously tries to resolve matters, while continuing to serve justice to its people in a pragmatic manner.