Dubai City Information Site

Navigating the Dubai Legal System

Hi, Sunil here to discuss the Dubai legal system

If you have no background on the legal system in Dubai, then you are in for a fun ride.

Imagine a hybrid of traditional Islamic (Muslim) law combined with modern civil law that is commonly practiced in Europe and nearby countries.

Islamic principles, however, govern the core of most legislation.

So if you are accustomed to a common law system that is used in the United Kingdom, you must take time to understand Dubai law as it is quite different.

The Dubai legal system (and the UAE as a whole) does not rely much on satutes (case law) and precedents (previous decisions made in similar cases) like civil law systems do (United States comes to mind here).

Thereby, no written constitution governs the legislation.

There is no single written constitution within the Dubai legal system.

However there are different laws for companies, labor, real estate, intellectual property, etc.

This is 'per se' the legal legislation governing cases that fall in each category. Can you see how scattered court cases can get? What if the case trespasses into another category? What if a similar case in the past was ruled differently?

To establish some order, the legal system in Dubai has enacted some commercial and civil codes that have glued the legal system together a bit and have formed some type of order. The problem however is that these codes are not flexible (no room for judgment) and leads to inappropriate use of authoritarian power. This is not just in Dubai my friend. Such is the case in most Middle Eastern countries.

So as you can imagine, because of the comingled nature of the legal system, the physical infrastructure is split into a dual court system in Dubai. There is the “Sharia” (traditional) courts and then the modern civil courts. Each handle different types of cases.

Laws are written in Arabic in a book called the “gazette”. You will find many English translations of these laws, but finding discrepancies from one version to another is very common. That is why I do not recommend relying on translations. Your best bet is to engage a qualified professional.

Documentation, proceedings, contracts and transcribing is all done in Arabic as well. Yes, getting involved in the legal system can be a nightmare for a non Arabic speaking expat living in Dubai (which is probably over 70% of the population).

Remember that although English translations / versions are allowed in most cases, always have an original copy in Arabic drafted as well, especially if you are engaged in an important legal transaction. Make sure the two documents say the same thing. Whenever there is a discrepancy, the document in Arabic will always be favored.

Would I recommend you go at your legal business all alone? Never. There are two things that I always recommend:

  • A good, reliable and experienced local lawyer

  • A good translator (often can be the lawyer as well)

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