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Litigation

Last verified on Thursday 29th June 2017

United Arab Emirates

Hassan Arab and Hussain Eisa Al Shiri

    Overview

  1. 1.Court system
    Describe the general organisation of the court system for civil litigation.
    1. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) judiciary acts as an independent branch from the executive and legislative branches. Judges of all levels are appointed by a decree from the ruler. Judges in the UAE are tasked with determining questions of facts and law, and no juries are used in any form of litigation.

      The UAE court system is a combination of a federal system and emirate-based system. The emirates of Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah and Um Al Quwain are part of the federal court system. The emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah each have a local court system.

      Each emirate in the federal court system contains a court of first instance that has jurisdiction to hear any civil dispute within the emirate, and a court of appeal that hears any appeals from the court of first instance’s decisions. A further appeal can be made to the UAE Federal Supreme Court, which sits in Abu Dhabi and is the highest court in the federal court system.

      Emirates that opted for a local court system contain a court of first instance that has jurisdiction to hear any civil dispute within the emirate, a court of appeal that hears any appeals from the court of first instance and a court of cassation within the emirate that is the last level of appeal.

      Claims involving federal government entities are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal courts in Abu Dhabi. These courts have one stage of appeal and further appeals are heard at the UAE Supreme Court.

      A UAE court is generally bound by a final judgment issued by another UAE court.

       

  2. 2.The legal profession
    Describe the general organisation of the legal profession.
    1. Lawyers are admitted and granted rights of audience by enrolling with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Separate admission is required in each emirate that is not part of the federal system. Newly admitted lawyers can only appear before the court of first instance and the court of appeal. After five years of being admitted, lawyers can appear before the court of cassation.

      There is no split bar system nor specialised plaintiff or defendant bars. Foreign lawyers are not permitted to have rights of audience in UAE courts.

      Foreign lawyers practicing as legal consultants may also be subject to admission in the particular emirate they work in. Currently, only the Emirate of Dubai has a process for mandatory registration of consultants.

  3. 3.General
    Give a brief overview of the political and social background as it relates to civil litigation.
    1. Litigation in the UAE is viewed as a fundamental right for parties seeking to enforce their legal rights. Since the UAE has a relatively young legal system, it continues to grow and develop with an emphasis on efficiency. The caseload is heavy, and there have been reforms to lessen the caseload by shortening the hearing adjournments, limiting documents that can be introduced during the litigation process as opposed to at the initiation of it, increasing the appeal threshold and expediting service by permitting service by email and fax in limited circumstances.

    Jurisdiction

  4. 4.Jurisdiction and venue
    What are the criteria for determining the jurisdiction and venue of the competent court for a civil matter?
    1. The UAE courts have jurisdiction to hear disputes, even if the parties agreed to a different jurisdiction, in the following cases:

      • with the exception of actions in rem relating to real property abroad, the courts shall have jurisdiction to hear actions brought against nationals and claims brought against foreigners having a domicile or place of residence in the state;
      • if the defendant has an elected domicile in the state;
      • if the action relates to property in the state or the inheritance of a national or an estate opened therein;
      • if the action relates to an obligation entered into or performed or that is stipulated to be performed in the state or to a contract intended to be notarised therein or to an event that occurred therein or to a bankruptcy declared in one of its courts;
      • if the action is brought by a wife having a domicile in the state against her husband who had a domicile therein;
      • if the action relates to the maintenance of one of the parents or a wife or person under a restriction or a minor or in connection with the guardianship of property or of a person if the applicant for the maintenance or the wife or the minor or the person under a restriction has a domicile in the state;
      • if it relates to personal status and the plaintiff is a national or a foreigner having a domicile in the state, if the defendant has no known domicile abroad or if national (UAE) law is mandatorily applicable in the action; or
      • if one of the defendants has a domicile or place of residence in the state.
  5. 5.Forum shopping
    Does your jurisdiction commonly attract disputes that have a nexus with other jurisdictions?
    1. The most common issue is when international parties contract with a UAE national or resident individual or entity and agree for the dispute to be heard in another jurisdiction. Since UAE courts have jurisdiction over all disputes involving a UAE national or resident individual or entity, judgments obtained in other jurisdictions may be difficult to enforce in the UAE since UAE courts would have had original jurisdiction. Some litigants also favour UAE courts because of the resolution of cases in a faster time frame than other jurisdictions.

  6. 6.Pendency in another forum
    How will a court treat a request to hear a dispute that is already pending before another forum?
    1. If the court finds that it has jurisdiction, it will continue hearing the dispute even if there is a pending dispute before another forum.

  7. 7.

    Deference to arbitration
    How will the courts treat a dispute that is, or could be, subject to an arbitration clause or an agreement to arbitrate, including in interim proceedings?

    1. If the defendant insists at the first hearing on the dismissal of the court dispute because of an arbitration clause being entered into between the parties, the UAE courts will dismiss the court dispute after verifying the existence of a valid arbitration clause. In some cases, the court may allow the matter to proceed with the substantive litigation before issuing its judgment, which contains its ruling on jurisdiction and the arbitration clause.

  8. 8.Judicial review of arbitral awards on jurisdiction
    May courts in your country review arbitral awards on jurisdiction?
    1. Yes. The courts may review the jurisdictional findings of a tribunal.

  9. 9.Anti-suit injunctions
    Are anti-suit injunctions available?
    1. No.

  10. 10.

    Sovereign immunity
    Which entities are immune from being sued in your jurisdiction? In what circumstances? In what circumstances can creditors enforce a court judgment or arbitral award against a sovereign or a state entity?

    1. Article 41 of the UAE Constitution provides that every person shall have the right to submit complaints to the competent authorities including the judicial authorities, concerning the abuse or infringement of rights and freedoms. As such, no entities are immune from being sued in the UAE. However, there are specific procedures that may have to be followed to sue certain governmental entities.

    Procedure

  11. 11.Commencement and conduct of proceedings in general
    How are proceedings commenced? To what extent will a court actively lead the proceedings and to what extent will the court rely on the parties to further the proceedings?
    1. Civil court proceedings are initiated by a claimant party lodging a statement of claim with the court. The court will have a minimal role in leading the proceedings, and it is the responsibility of the claimant to continue to attend the hearings and ensure completion of service, otherwise the case may be struck out by the court.

  12. 12.Statement of claim
    What are the requirements for filing a claim? What is the pleading standard?
    1. The statement of claim must include the names and addresses of the parties, a summary of the facts of the dispute, the legal basis for the claim and prayers for relief that are requested from the court. Claimants are strongly encouraged to submit a detailed substantiation of their claim in the statement of claim along with the documents they rely on at the initiation of proceedings.

  13. 13.Statement of defence
    What are the requirements for answering claims? What is the pleading standard?
    1. There are no formal requirements for the defence. It is standard for the defendant to recite the facts of the dispute from his or her point of view along with a response to the legal arguments made by the claimant.

  14. 14.Further briefs and submissions
    What are the rules regarding further briefs and submissions?
    1. The court may permit the parties to file further briefs and submissions until it is satisfied that the matter is ripe for judgment. Parties are permitted to amend their requests for relief as long as the case has not been reserved for judgment by the court. However, a party should not assume that the court will permit further submissions as the judge has wide discretion to reserve the matter for judgment at any hearing.

  15. 15.Publicity
    To what degree are civil proceedings made public?
    1. Court hearings are public and third parties can attend. No TV cameras or photographers are allowed in the court. No court filings are made public. Parties traditionally have been anonymised in judgments. There is a recent trend to issue judgments with the name of the parties intact.

    Pretrial settlement and ADR

  16. 16.Advice and settlement proposals
    Will a court render (interim) assessments about any factual or legal issues in dispute? What role and approach do courts typically take regarding settlement? Are there mandatory settlement conferences between the parties at the outset of or during the litigation?
    1. Courts do not usually render any interim assessments on factual or legal issues. Courts do favour settlement and will adjourn the matter in most instances if parties are contemplating settlement. There are some mandatory settlement conferences at the outset of litigation, and the process for those is different for each court system.

  17. 17.Mediation
    Is referral to mediation or another form of ADR an option, or even mandatory, before or during the litigation?
    1. There is no referral to formal mediation. All cases in the federal system are referred to a conciliation and settlement committee to discuss the potential for settlement between the parties before the matter is referred to court. In Dubai, the Centre for Amicable Settlement of Disputes plays a similar role but with limited applicability.

    Interim relief

  18. 18.Forms of interim relief
    What are the forms of emergency or interim relief?
    1. The most common interim or urgent relief granted by UAE courts is a precautionary attachment. Others interim reliefs available include travel ban applications, an application to appoint a temporary custodian of a company and an application for a status report by a court-appointed expert.

  19. 19.Obtaining relief
    What must a petitioner show to obtain interim relief?
    1. A precautionary attachment order may be made in one of the following circumstances:

      • any circumstance in which a prospective claimant can show that a prospective defendant owes him or her a debt or a likely debt, and fears that a prospective defendant’s assets may be lost as security for his or her claim (ie, there is a risk of dissipation of assets); or
      • if the claimant holds a qualifying document evidencing a clear and unconditional debt because of him or her (eg, a cheque or a promissory note).

      A precautionary attachment order must be granted, pursuant to article 254(2) of the UAE Civil Procedure Law, "if the creditor has a judgment, even if the judgment is not mandatorily enforceable, if the debt proved by it is of a determined amount".

    Decisions

  20. 20.Types of decisions
    What types of decisions (other than interim relief) may a court render in civil matters?
    1. The most common decisions issued by courts in the UAE while litigation is ongoing are: interim decisions to appoint an expert to review a point or facts or several points, summoning specific witnesses for questioning or joining parties to the dispute.

  21. 21.Timing of decisions
    At what stage of the proceedings may a court render a decision? Are motions to dismiss and summary judgment available?
    1. The court can render a decision once it reserves the matter for judgment. Motions to dismiss and summary judgments are not available under UAE law.

  22. 22.Default judgment
    Under which circumstances will a default judgment be rendered?
    1. Default judgments are not available under UAE law.

  23. 23.Duration of proceedings
    How long does it typically take a court of first instance to render a decision?
    1. The length of proceedings varies greatly depending on the nature of the dispute, its complexity, the parties involved and the volume of documentation. Because of recent changes, which have expedited the litigation process significantly, a court of first instance is expected to render a decision within three to seven months of the filing of a case.

    Parties

  24. 24.Third parties – joinder, third-party notice, intervenors
    How can third parties become involved in proceedings?
    1. The parties may be joined by one of the litigants or by the court on its own motion. Third parties can also intervene by applying to the court. If the third party’s joinder is not proper because it has no relation to the dispute, the court can reject the request for joinder. If the court rejects the request for joinder, the party who sought the joinder may file a separate claim against the party intended to be joined.

    Evidence

  25. 25.Taking and adducing evidence
    Will a court take or initiate the taking of evidence or will it rely on the parties to request the taking of evidence and to present it?
    1. It is the obligation of each party to present evidence of its claim or defence. In rare circumstances where the court is unable to render a fair judgment without calling upon one of the parties to give evidence, the court may on its own motion call witnesses or order a party to produce evidence.

  26. 26.Disclosure
    Is an opponent obliged to produce evidence that is harmful to it in the proceedings? Is there a document disclosure procedure in place? What are the consequences if evidence is not produced by a party?
    1. Parties are not obliged to produce evidence harmful to their case. There is no general document disclosure procedure in place.

      There is a process, pursuant to articles 18 and 19 of the UAE Evidence Law, to request the court to compel the other party to disclose a particular document, but the process requires the document to be specified in the request and to be either a document in common between the parties or a document the other party is relying on. If the party against whom the request is made does not deny having the requested document and refuses to submit it to the court, the court may draw an adverse inference and assume that the requesting party’s allegations are true with respect to this document.

  27. 27.

    Witnesses of fact
    Please describe the key characteristics of witness evidence in your jurisdiction. Is witness preparation allowed?

    1. Witness evidence is rarely called upon in UAE courts. In instances where witness evidence is ordered by the court, it is limited to a few limited questions from the court and sometimes from the lawyers of the litigants if the court permits direct questioning.

  28. 28.Expert witnesses
    Who appoints expert witnesses? What is the role of experts?
    1. The court appoints experts when it feels there is a need for a review of the facts of the case by an independent expert. The expert’s role is to execute the mandate of the court and review the facts presented by both parties. Court appointed experts are often specialised in different fields such as accounting, engineering, intellectual property and other fields. The expert’s task ends with a report prepared for the court in which the expert gives his or her determination of the factual issues and any technical issues that were raised. The court may rely on the expert report in part or in full or may dismiss it.

  29. 29.Party witnesses
    Can parties to proceedings (or a party’s directors and officers in the case of a legal person) act as witnesses? Can the court draw negative inferences from a party’s failure to testify or act as a witness?
    1. A party cannot be compelled to act as a witness. If the court calls a witness to either validate a party’s claim or defend the party’s position and the witness refuses to act as a witness, the court may draw a negative inference depending on the circumstances.

  30. 30.Foreign law and documentation
    How is foreign law or foreign-language documentation introduced into the proceedings and considered by the courts?
    1. Foreign documents may be introduced but must always be accompanied by a certified translation.

      Foreign law is rarely applied by UAE courts. In the rare instances where it is applied, the court typically requires a translated, legalised and attested copy of the law of the foreign country that is to be applied.

  31. 31.Standard of proof
    What standard of proof applies in civil litigation? Are there different standards for different issues?
    1. There is no specific standard of proof, but it best described as preponderance of the evidence. There are no different standards; however, the burden of proof may shift depending on the circumstances.

    Appeals

  32. 32.Options for appeal
    What are the possibilities to appeal a judicial decision? How many levels of appeal are there?
    1. The right to appeal is automatic in the UAE. There are two stages of appeal, one to the court of appeal and one to the court of cassation or the Federal Supreme Court depending on the legal system in the emirate. There is a minimum threshold of 500,000 dirhams for the dispute to be appealed to the High Court.

  33. 33.

    Standard of review
    What aspects of a lower court's decisions will an appeals court review and by what standards?

    1. At the first stage of appeal, both factual and legal issues are subject to review. At the second stage of appeal only issues of law are reviewable.

  34. 34.Duration of appellate proceedings
    How long does it usually take to obtain an appellate decision?
    1. At the first stage of appeal, a decision is usually expected in six to nine months. At the second stage of appeal, a decision is usually expected in nine months to one year.

    Special proceedings

  35. 35.Class actions
    Are class actions available?
    1. No. UAE law does not currently provide for class actions.

  36. 36.Derivative actions
    Are derivative actions available?
    1. No.

  37. 37.Fast-track proceedings
    Are fast-track proceedings available?
    1. No.

  38. 38.Foreign-language proceedings
    Is it possible to conduct proceedings in a foreign language?
    1. No. All proceedings conducted in UAE courts must be in Arabic.

    Effects of judgement and enforcement

  39. 39.Effects of a judgment
    What legal effects does a judgment have?
    1. A UAE judgment is binding on the parties named in the judgment and may have a binding effect on third parties in some instances. UAE judgments also have res judicata effect for their finding of fact and application of law.

  40. 40.Enforcement procedure
    What are the procedures and options for enforcing a domestic judgment?
    1. The enforcement or execution process of a final domestic judgment involves obtaining the executionary deed on the judgment, lodging a statement of execution with the relevant court and serving the statement of execution on the defendant. If payment is not made within 15 days from the date of service, the judgment creditor can ask the court to inquire about assets of the defendant and attach them for liquidation in favour of the judgment debt.

  41. 41.Enforcement of foreign judgments
    Under what circumstances will a foreign judgment be enforced in your jurisdiction?
    1. The circumstance under which a foreign judgment may be enforced in the UAE depends on the terms of the treaty for recognition of judgments between the UAE and the country in which the foreign judgment was issued. Absent a treaty, the general rules for enforcement of a foreign judgment are found in article 235 of the UAE Civil Procedure Law:

      • 1) Judgments and orders issued in a foreign country may be ordered to be enforced in the State of the United Arab Emirates on the same conditions as prescribed in the laws of that country for the enforcement of similar judgments and orders issued in the State.
      • 2) An enforcement order shall be applied for under normal litigation procedures to the Court of First Instance within whose jurisdiction the enforcement is required. Enforcement may not be ordered until the following has been verified:
        • a)           That the State courts do not have jurisdiction in the dispute in which the judgment has been given or the order made, and that the foreign courts which issued it have jurisdiction therein under the international rules for legal jurisdiction prescribed in their laws;
        • b)           That the judgment or order has been issued by a court having jurisdiction under the law of the country in which issued;
        • c)           That the opposing parties in the case in which the foreign judgment has been given have been summoned to appear, and have duly appeared.
        • d)           That the judgment or order has acquired the force of a fait accompli under the law of the court which issued it; and
        • e)           That it does not conflict with a judgment or order previously issued by a court in the state and contains nothing in breach of public morals or order in the State.

    Costs

  42. 42.Costs
    Will the successful party’s costs be borne by the opponent?
    1. No. A party’s costs are not awarded in UAE courts. However, the court may assess court fees, expert fees and nominal advocacy fees against the losing party.

  43. 43.Legal aid
    May a party apply for legal aid to finance court proceedings? What other options are available for parties who may not be able to afford litigation?
    1. There are no legal aid programmes that offer to finance proceedings. Parties that cannot afford litigation can apply to the court to be exempted from the court filing fees or for the fees to be paid at a later date. They can also take advantage of pro bono programmes that may be available.

  44. 44.Contingency fees
    Are contingency fee arrangements permissible? Are they commonly used?
    1. Contingency fee arrangements are allowed only if the fee to be paid upon success is a fixed fee and not a percentage of the amount awarded to the claimant. They are commonly used in the UAE.

  45. 45.Third-party funding
    Is third-party funding allowed in your jurisdiction?
    1. There are currently no restrictions on third-party funding. The limits and control will depend on the agreement between the parties.

  46. 46.Fee scales
    Are there fee scales lawyers must follow? Are there upper or lower limits for fees charged by lawyers in your jurisdiction?
    1. There are no general restrictions on fee scales or limits on fees.

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GAR know-how provides reliable cross-jurisdictional insight to help cement the building blocks of international practice. In this section, select experienced practitioners answer commonly asked questions for key jurisdictions so allowing readers to be better-placed to solve the challenges of their working days.

Questions

    Overview

  1. 1.Court system
    Describe the general organisation of the court system for civil litigation.
  2. 2.The legal profession
    Describe the general organisation of the legal profession.
  3. 3.General
    Give a brief overview of the political and social background as it relates to civil litigation.
  4. Jurisdiction

  5. 4.Jurisdiction and venue
    What are the criteria for determining the jurisdiction and venue of the competent court for a civil matter?
  6. 5.Forum shopping
    Does your jurisdiction commonly attract disputes that have a nexus with other jurisdictions?
  7. 6.Pendency in another forum
    How will a court treat a request to hear a dispute that is already pending before another forum?
  8. 7.

    Deference to arbitration
    How will the courts treat a dispute that is, or could be, subject to an arbitration clause or an agreement to arbitrate, including in interim proceedings?


  9. 8.Judicial review of arbitral awards on jurisdiction
    May courts in your country review arbitral awards on jurisdiction?
  10. 9.Anti-suit injunctions
    Are anti-suit injunctions available?
  11. 10.

    Sovereign immunity
    Which entities are immune from being sued in your jurisdiction? In what circumstances? In what circumstances can creditors enforce a court judgment or arbitral award against a sovereign or a state entity?


  12. Procedure

  13. 11.Commencement and conduct of proceedings in general
    How are proceedings commenced? To what extent will a court actively lead the proceedings and to what extent will the court rely on the parties to further the proceedings?
  14. 12.Statement of claim
    What are the requirements for filing a claim? What is the pleading standard?
  15. 13.Statement of defence
    What are the requirements for answering claims? What is the pleading standard?
  16. 14.Further briefs and submissions
    What are the rules regarding further briefs and submissions?
  17. 15.Publicity
    To what degree are civil proceedings made public?
  18. Pretrial settlement and ADR

  19. 16.Advice and settlement proposals
    Will a court render (interim) assessments about any factual or legal issues in dispute? What role and approach do courts typically take regarding settlement? Are there mandatory settlement conferences between the parties at the outset of or during the litigation?
  20. 17.Mediation
    Is referral to mediation or another form of ADR an option, or even mandatory, before or during the litigation?
  21. Interim relief

  22. 18.Forms of interim relief
    What are the forms of emergency or interim relief?
  23. 19.Obtaining relief
    What must a petitioner show to obtain interim relief?
  24. Decisions

  25. 20.Types of decisions
    What types of decisions (other than interim relief) may a court render in civil matters?
  26. 21.Timing of decisions
    At what stage of the proceedings may a court render a decision? Are motions to dismiss and summary judgment available?
  27. 22.Default judgment
    Under which circumstances will a default judgment be rendered?
  28. 23.Duration of proceedings
    How long does it typically take a court of first instance to render a decision?
  29. Parties

  30. 24.Third parties – joinder, third-party notice, intervenors
    How can third parties become involved in proceedings?
  31. Evidence

  32. 25.Taking and adducing evidence
    Will a court take or initiate the taking of evidence or will it rely on the parties to request the taking of evidence and to present it?
  33. 26.Disclosure
    Is an opponent obliged to produce evidence that is harmful to it in the proceedings? Is there a document disclosure procedure in place? What are the consequences if evidence is not produced by a party?
  34. 27.

    Witnesses of fact
    Please describe the key characteristics of witness evidence in your jurisdiction. Is witness preparation allowed?


  35. 28.Expert witnesses
    Who appoints expert witnesses? What is the role of experts?
  36. 29.Party witnesses
    Can parties to proceedings (or a party’s directors and officers in the case of a legal person) act as witnesses? Can the court draw negative inferences from a party’s failure to testify or act as a witness?
  37. 30.Foreign law and documentation
    How is foreign law or foreign-language documentation introduced into the proceedings and considered by the courts?
  38. 31.Standard of proof
    What standard of proof applies in civil litigation? Are there different standards for different issues?
  39. Appeals

  40. 32.Options for appeal
    What are the possibilities to appeal a judicial decision? How many levels of appeal are there?
  41. 33.

    Standard of review
    What aspects of a lower court's decisions will an appeals court review and by what standards?


  42. 34.Duration of appellate proceedings
    How long does it usually take to obtain an appellate decision?
  43. Special proceedings

  44. 35.Class actions
    Are class actions available?
  45. 36.Derivative actions
    Are derivative actions available?
  46. 37.Fast-track proceedings
    Are fast-track proceedings available?
  47. 38.Foreign-language proceedings
    Is it possible to conduct proceedings in a foreign language?
  48. Effects of judgement and enforcement

  49. 39.Effects of a judgment
    What legal effects does a judgment have?
  50. 40.Enforcement procedure
    What are the procedures and options for enforcing a domestic judgment?
  51. 41.Enforcement of foreign judgments
    Under what circumstances will a foreign judgment be enforced in your jurisdiction?
  52. Costs

  53. 42.Costs
    Will the successful party’s costs be borne by the opponent?
  54. 43.Legal aid
    May a party apply for legal aid to finance court proceedings? What other options are available for parties who may not be able to afford litigation?
  55. 44.Contingency fees
    Are contingency fee arrangements permissible? Are they commonly used?
  56. 45.Third-party funding
    Is third-party funding allowed in your jurisdiction?
  57. 46.Fee scales
    Are there fee scales lawyers must follow? Are there upper or lower limits for fees charged by lawyers in your jurisdiction?