Many prospective litigants perceive a civil case in the UAE legal system as being complex and confusing, especially for expatriates who are not familiar with a civil law system and don’t speak Arabic.
Below is an overview of what constitutes a civil court case in either Dubai or Abu Dhabi, which answers some of the most common queries about the system.
How Do I Initiate A Claim Before The Court Of First Instance?
Filing a claim at The Court Of First Instance, which has jurisdiction to hear the dispute, serves to commence a civil case in the UAE. The claim should clearly outline the basis of the dispute and the remedies sought.
Article No. 104 of the UAE Constitution states that the judicial authorities of the individual Emirates will have jurisdiction in all the judicial matters in those Emirates except for the matters that are specifically reserved for the Federal Courts by Article 99 of the UAE constitution.
In Abu Dhabi, a Court fee of 5 % of the value of the claim (capped at AED 40,000) will need to be paid upon lodgment of the lawsuit as per the Law No.13 of 2017 in Abu Dhabi. In Dubai a court fee of 7.5 percent of the value of the claim (capped at AED 30,000) will also need to be paid upon lodgment.
As per the Administrative Resolution of Dubai Courts No. 33 of 2017 regarding the Centre for Amicable Resolution of Disputes in Dubai, all the disputes where the claim amount is under AED 100,000 has been added to the jurisdiction of the Centre in addition to some other condition clearly outlined in the Resolution. In Abu Dhabi however, if the claim amount is less than AED 500,000, the case shall be referred first to Centre for Amicable Resolution of Disputes.
All documents filed at the court together with the claim itself need to be in Arabic or translated into Arabic by a certified Court translator. The court bailiff’s office will then serve the claim on the defendant and the first hearing date will be set. This is usually two to three weeks after the claim is filed.
Only Litigators licensed by the Ministry of Justice to appear before the UAE courts may conduct advocacy in Courts of the Emirates or the Federal Courts. In addition, a local Litigator who wishes to appear before the final court of appeal (Abu Dhabi Supreme Court or Dubai Court of Cassation) will also have to be registered with those courts.
In Dubai, in the event that the defendant cannot be physically located, the Court will typically order the claimant to assist the Court in finding the defendant’s address. If this is unsuccessful, the Court will move to order an investigation with various authorities (DEWA, municipality, The General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners, and the Federal Authority For Identity and Citizenship) to locate the defendant. If these searches are also unsuccessful the Court will usually order the service to take place by publishing the case in a local newspaper.
If a defendant ignores a claim or cannot be located, it is possible to obtain a judgment in the defendant’s absence.
What Is The Process For The Hearings?
At the first hearing of a civil court case, the parties’ legal representatives will be required to produce their powers of attorney to confirm they are authorized to act on behalf of their clients. Powers of Attorney are taken to be definitive proof of a person’s authority to act on behalf of another.
A properly executed POA is, in most cases, a prerequisite to conducting all manner of official business in the UAE. POAs play a special role in the court system of the UAE because an advocate appearing in a UAE court is required by Article 55(2) of the Civil Procedure Law to “establish by a legal document his power of attorney on behalf of the principal”.
Many other states have requirements similar to the UAE. Whenever an advocate appears in court proceedings in the UAE, he must first of all represent his POA with the court, evidencing his authority to act on behalf of his principal. If he does not do so he cannot represent his principal unless it is approved by the Court in some cases such as a verbal authorization from the litigant before the Court until the registration of POA.
If a POA is executed outside the UAE in a language other than Arabic, it must be translated into Arabic, attested by a notary public in the country in which it is executed, THE Embassy of the UAE in the origin Country and the Ministry of Foreign affairs in the origin country and finally to get it attested by the Ministry of Foreign affairs of the UAE in order to be authenticated for use in the UAE.
After the powers of attorney have been sighted by the court, the court will set another hearing date, usually two to three weeks later to allow the defendant adequate time to respond to the claimant’s claim. The defence submits its memorandum in response to the claimant’s memorandum at the hearing set by the judge.
The initial Dubai or Abu Dhabi civil court case hearings are generally short and mostly administrative to allow the parties to submit their written memoranda. The other party at the next hearing then addresses these memoranda.
Each hearing is usually set two to three weeks apart. There can be as many hearings as a judge believes are necessary to enable each party to fully state its position.
This is in contrast to the process adopted in common-law jurisdictions such as the DIFC Courts and England and Wales, which usually allocate one hearing after several months of preparation over which all the points are raised following detailed procedural rules, which set out the court’s case management powers together with the means by which the court is provided with information including disclosure and witness statements.
Will The UAE Court Appoint An Expert?
It is common in a civil case in either the Dubai or Abu Dhabi local courts to appoint an expert. If the court believes there are technical areas in the case, which need independent verification, it will appoint a court expert to review the documents, meet with the parties to discuss the case, and to provide a report to the court. The expert is usually appointed from a list of court-appointed experts.
As witness testimony is rarely used before either the Dubai or Abu Dhabi Courts, judges rely extensively on expert reports when issuing their judgments.
Disclosure In Dubai And Abu Dhabi Courts
There is no formal requirement for disclosure in either the Dubai or Abu Dhabi courts. Parties are not obliged to submit to the court all documents, which either support or are detrimental to their case. However, since a court-appointed expert can ask to see these documents, the appointment of an expert is also a means of investigating each party’s assertions in the dispute.
The expert will hold a number of meetings with Litigants to submit any further documents they consider important. The expert may conduct his own enquires and investigations. When the expert feels that he has enough evidence to make his report he will submit it to the Court. The court will usually (but does not have any legal obligation to) ratify the conclusions of the expert’s report the matter which shown the importance of the Expert.
How Are Dubai And Abu Dhabi Court Case Decisions Handed Down?
Once the judge believes he has sufficient information regarding the dispute, he will set a date to hand down final judgment. Judgment is handed down in written form in Arabic. Federal Courts, publish Supreme Court judgments monthly.
There is a provision for appealing judgments in a civil case in both The Dubai and Abu Dhabi Courts:
- Appeals against a Court of First Instance decision are made to the Court of Appeal within 30 days of the date of the judgment. Appeals against a Court of First Instance Judgment must be in relation to issues of fact or issues of law.
- Appeals against a Court of Appeal decision are to be made to the Court of Cassation within 60 days of the date of the judgment.
- Appeals against a Court of Appeal Judgment can only be in relation to matters of law.
Permission to appeal is not required for civil court cases and is an automatic right provided the sum in dispute exceeds AED 20,000 for Court of Appeal cases and over AED 200,000 for Court of Cassation cases with the exception of cases where the sum claimed has not yet been evaluated.
Appeals are as common as a tactical measure to draw out the proceedings and lengthen the time before a judgment is enforced.
How Long Do Dubai And Abu Dhabi Court Cases Run?
In cases where an expert is not appointed, the case can last between 9 and 18 months before the Court of First Instance. If an expert is appointed a case can last for up to two years before a judgment is handed down in the Court of First Instance.
Can I Recover My Costs?
The Court will usually make an order for costs in favour of the successful party for a civil court case. However, the amounts awarded are generally nominal covering only court fees, experts’ fees, and a nominal fee for advocacy. This differs significantly from common-law jurisdictions such as in England and Wales where a successful claimant is generally awarded a substantial amount of its legal professional fees.
How Are Financial Judgments Enforced?
Financial judgments can be enforced via attachment applications on including without limitation (Bank Accounts, Vehicles, properties, Stocks, etc.) An attachment application requests the defendant’s assets such as bank accounts or property be frozen pending resolution of the dispute. An attachment application can also be applied for prior to a claim being filed with either the Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
The Execution Court may proceed with the auctioning of attached assets to satisfy the judgment delivered in favour of the judgment creditor or part thereof. A person may be imprisoned if he fails to pay the amount set out in the judgment against him. However, the judgment creditor must provide the Court with evidence that the judgment debtor is incapable of paying and that he has not paid despite notice to do so.
Is Interim Relief Available In Dubai And Abu Dhabi Courts?
There is no concept of interim or injunctive relief available from either the Dubai or Abu Dhabi Courts except for an attachment of assets.
Filing a claim is the first step in what can be a long, difficult, and frustrating legal process. Those seeking to bring a civil case in either the Dubai or Abu Dhabi Courts need to have a sound understanding of the process they are commencing and should ensure they have sought good legal advice on the strength of their claim prior to it being filed. Once the decision to file a claim has been made, it is critical that a formal power of attorney is in place and that all documents related to the claim have been translated into Arabic by an official translator.
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