1. Is your jurisdiction primarily a common law, civil law, customary law or theocratic law jurisdiction? Are the laws substantially derived from the laws of another jurisdiction and, if so, which? What instruments have legal force and effect? Who are the lawmaking bodies? How and where are new laws published? Can laws be passed with retrospective effect?
United Arab Emirates
The UAE is a civil law jurisdiction based on codified laws and regulations. There is no system of binding precedence created by past legal decisions as is the case in common law jurisdictions. The UAE's civil law system is inspired by the Egyptian civil law, which is itself derived from the Roman and French civil law systems.
The UAE is a federation of seven Emirates (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah). The Constitution is the primary law in the UAE legal system. It provides the principles on which the UAE is constituted and its fundamental bases.
The UAE's Constitution determines jurisdiction and authority at both federal and local level by setting out the matters within the jurisdiction of the federal government. Under the Constitution, the individual Emirates retain sovereignty with respect to all matters within their respective territorial borders not exclusively specified in the Constitution as being within the jurisdiction of the federal government.
Under this framework, the Constitution grants each Emirate the authority to establish its own legislative bodies and judicial authorities. Accordingly, there are two main court systems in the UAE: federal and local. Federal and local courts consist of civil courts (which hear civil and commercial claims), criminal courts and Sharia courts. For example, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah have opted out of the Federal Court system and maintain independent judicial systems (see question 43), although pursuant to article 99 of the UAE Constitution, the Federal Supreme Court retains jurisdiction to decide certain matters.
The principle of constitutional supremacy is preserved in the UAE Constitution. In the case of conflict between federal and local laws and regulations, Federal legislation will prevail over the legislation and regulations issued by the individual Emirates.
The primary source of law is UAE Law No. 5 of 1985, the Civil Transactions Law (often referred to as the UAE Civil Code). There are a number of other laws that are relevant to the UAE construction market, however, and these include: Federal Law No. 18 of 1993 – the Law of Commercial Transactions (often referred to as the UAE Commercial Code), Federal Law No. 11 of 1992 – the Law of Civil Procedure (often referred to as the UAE Civil Procedure Code), Federal Law No. 10 of 1992 – the Law of Evidence in Civil and Commercial Transactions, Federal Law No. 3 of 1987 – the UAE Penal Code and Federal Law No. 6 of 2018 – the Arbitration Law.
If there is no applicable codified law, UAE courts must pass judgment in accordance with the Islamic Sharia law based upon guidance provided by scholars of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence explaining the application of Sharia. However, in civil and commercial matters, as a matter of practice, UAE courts will generally not apply Sharia outside the Sharia principles as codified. As a civil law jurisdiction, judges are not bound by previous (or higher) court judgments but higher courts' judgments will have a persuasive effect.
The third source of law in the UAE is derived from the customs and principles of natural and comparative laws, provided these customs and principles are not in conflict with Islamic Sharia law or to principles of public order and morality.
Generally, new laws do not come into force until they are published in the Official Gazette. A law will come into force either at the date of its publication or a few months after publication as expressly stated in the law itself. Some new laws may come into force from the date they are issued. Unless the law specifies otherwise, new laws do not have a retrospective effect.
Within the UAE there are a number of free zones that have their own laws and regulations. The most notable and comprehensive of these are the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), which is a financial free zone administered by the government of Dubai, and the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), a free zone established in Abu Dhabi. The DIFC has its own body of commercial laws with an independent judicial authority. Likewise, the ADGM also has its own court system and has adopted many of the commercial laws of England.