United Arab Emirates


*Please note this is just a draft and all contents are still under revision.*


Legal Table
Legal Text

Legal System/History

 

 

UAE a federation of seven Emirates: Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujayrah, Umm al-Qawain, Dubai and Ra’s al-Khaymah.

Region was known as “pirate coast” by early 19th century. From 1820s, British entered into number of treaties with local rulers to protect vital shipping interests. Perpetual maritime truce signed in 1853 gave British remit over handling of foreign relations. Gained independence from Britain in 1971, with Ras al-Khaymah, last Emirate to join federation, entering Union in 1972.

School(s) of Fiqh

Majority of Emiriti nationals are Sunni Muslim, with Shi’a minority, as well as small Christian and Hindu communities; high proportion of expatriates

Constitutional Status of Islam(ic Law)

Provisional Constitution adopted 2nd December 1971 and made permanent in 1996. Article 7 declares Islam official state religion of the Union, and Islamic shari’a shall be a principal source of legislation.

Court System

Abu Dhabi Courts Law 1968 regulates jurisdiction of shari’a courts, though personal status law remains uncodified. Other six emirates do not have similar legislation or organised judiciaries, so shari’a courts are not regulated. Important civil and criminal cases brought before ruler in person.

Sharjah Courts Law 1971 created civil courts competent to hear commercial and labour disputes, with limited criminal jurisdiction.

Law Establishing the Union Supreme Court 1973 and Union Law 1978 established the Union Courts of First Instance and Appeal and transferred jurisdiction from tribunals in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman and Fujayrah to these courts. Union Courts of First Instance deal with civil, commercial and administrative disputes, including personal status cases, arising in permanent capital. 

Relevant Legislation

 

Abu Dhabi Court Law 1968

Sharjah Courts Law 1971

Law on Judicial Relations between the Emirates 1971

Law Establishing the Union Supreme Court (no. 10/1973)

Social Security Law 1977

Union Law no. 6/1978 (establishing Union Courts of First Instance and Appeal and transferring jurisdiction to these courts from tribunals of Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman and Fujayrah)

Notable Features

The shari’a courts apply classical Islamic personal status law.

Notable Cases

Judgement no. 8/97, 1997 Dubai Court of Cassation ruled that divorced mother who had remarried retained custody rights over children due to written agreement between parents whereby father had agreed not to claim custody even if former wife remarried

Judgement no. 16/15, 1984 Abu Dhabi Court of Cassation ruled that Muslim wife has right to divorce where husband has physically abused her and dispute between them has not been resolved

Law/Case Reporting System

Law reporting through UAE Gazette, with some Emirates having own official gazettes (e.g., Ra’s al-Khaymah Gazette, Dubai Gazette).

International Conventions (with Relevant Reservations)

CRC – accession 1997 with reservations to Arts. 7, 14, 17 & 21

Legal History:

The UAE is a federation of seven Emirates: Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujayrah, Umm al-Qawain, Dubai and Ra’s al-Khaymah. Sources of law are Islamic law, constitutional law, and legislation.

The area now known as the United Arab Emirates was known as the “pirate coast” by the early 19th century. From the 1820s, the British entered into a number of treaties with local rules in order to protect their shipping interests. A perpetual maritime truce signed in 1853 gave the British remit over handling of foreign relations for the region. Full independence was attained in December 1971, with Ras al-Khaymah, the last Emirate to join the federation, becoming a part of the Union the following year.

Schools of Fiqh: The majority of Emiriti nationals are Sunni Muslim; there is a significant Shi’a minority, as well as small Christian and Hindu minorities. The federation has a very high proportion of expatriates.

Constitutional Status of Islam(ic Law): Article 7 of the Provisional Constitution adopted 2nd December 1971 and made permanent in 1996 declares Islam the official state religion of the Union, and affirms that Islamic shari’a shall be a principal source of legislation.

Court System: The Abu Dhabi Courts Law 1968 regulates the jurisdiction of shari’a courts, though personal status law remains uncodified. The other six Emirates do not have similar legislation or organised judiciaries, so shari’a courts are not regulated. Important civil and criminal cases are brought before the ruler in person.

The Sharjah Courts Law 1971 created civil courts competent to hear commercial and labour disputes, with limited criminal jurisdiction.  The Law Establishing the Union Supreme Court 1973 and the Union Law 1978 established the Union Courts of First Instance and Appeal and transferred jurisdiction from tribunals in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman and Fujayrah to these courts. Union Courts of First Instance deal with civil, commercial and administrative disputes, including personal status cases, arising in the permanent capital.

Notable Features: Personal status law remains unlegislated.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has been made responsible for welfare payments to those who require such assistance. Under the 1977 Social Security Law, eligibility extends to widows, orphans, divorced women or women separated from their husbands, unmarried women, families of prisoners, women married to foreign nationals, etc. The Ministry also disburses funds to local women's organisations, including the main national umbrella-group, the UAE Women’s Federation.

Notable Cases: Judgement no. 8/97: In 1997 the Dubai Court of Cassation ruled that a divorced mother who had remarried retained custody rights over children due to a written agreement between the parents whereby the father agreed not to claim custody even if his former wife remarried.

Judgement no. 16/15: In 1984 the Abu Dhabi Court of Cassation ruled that a Muslim wife has the right to a divorce where the husband has physically abused her and the dispute between them has not been resolved.

Law/Case Reporting System: Law reporting is through the UAE Gazette, with some of the Emirates having their own official gazettes (e.g., Ra’s al-Khaymah Gazette, Dubai Gazette).

International Conventions (with Relevant Reservations):  The United Arab Emirates acceded to the CRC in 1997 with the following reservations: the reservation to Article 7 states that "nationality is an internal matter…whose terms and conditions are established by national legislation"; the UAE will be bound by Article 14 (relating to children’s rights and freedoms) only to the extent that the provision "does not conflict with the principles and provisions of Islamic law"; Article 17 (on access to information and the functions of mass media) is to be applied in light of the requirements of domestic statutes; and the UAE does not consider itself bound by the provisions of Article 21 "given its commitment to the principles of Islamic law" in accordance with which "the UAE does not permit the system of adoption…"

Background and Sources: Amin, Middle East Legal Systems, Glasgow, 185; El Alami & Hinchcliffe, "The Uncodified Law" in Islamic Marriage and Divorce Laws of the Arab World, London, 1996; Ballantyne, Commercial Law in the Middle East: The Gulf States, London, 1986; Mahmood, "Gulf" in Statutes of Personal Law in Islamic Countries, 2nd ed., New Delhi, 1995; Price & Al-Tamimi, United Arab Emirates Court of Cassation Judgments: 1989-1997, The Hague, 1998; Redden, ‘UAE’ in Modern Legal Systems Cyclopedia, vol. 5, Buffalo, NY, 1990.