Dubai Court was founded in the year 1970 and has come to be known as prompt and equitable in the implementation of justice.
Dubai Court is an integrated unit consisting of:
- The Court of First Instance
- The Court of Appeal
- The Court of Cassation – the highest court in the judicial system
This article will outline the procedural framework at the two appellate levels.
Each level of the Court consists of separate circuits determined by the nature of law applicable i.e. Civil, Sharia or Criminal law. Each court has judicial circuits that are further specialized, as per their distinct subject matter and expertise of judges. These are the Civil Court, Commercial Court, Criminal Court, Labor Court, Real Estate Court, and Personal Status Courts. The litigant must be aware of the category his claim falls in, to determine the judicial circuit that will hear his case.
The Dubai Court of Appeal and the Court of Cassation both work in all the above-mentioned circuits. However, cases relating to constitutional matters are heard only by the Abu Dhabi Supreme Court of Cassation.
The Court of Appeal
When an aggrieved party finds the ruling of the Court of First Instance to be not satisfactory, an appeal may be filed before the Court of Appeal.
Judges: This Court, in all its circuits, is formed by three judges and is presided by one of them.
Jurisdiction: The verdicts that may be challenged before the Court of Appeal may be of criminal, civil, commercial, administrative or personal law jurisdiction; and may involve cases concerning personal status, contract violations, real-estate or labor. Both minor or major cases may be brought before this court.
Fact and Law: Appeals brought to the Court or Appeal can relate to issues of fact and points of law. When facts are in dispute, the Court of Appeal will consider the dispute afresh, and the parties are allowed to file further submissions and evidence.
Applicable Law: Typically, it is UAE law, i.e. statutes, decrees and include the pronouncements of the Ruler of Dubai in situations where UAE law is silent on a particular issue.
For civil cases, the appeal must be in accordance with the Civil Procedural Law as detailed in Federal Law No. 11 of 1992, as amended by Law No. 10 of 2014. For criminal cases, the appeal must be in accordance with the Criminal Procedural Law as detailed in Federal Law No. 35 of 1992.
Value of Claims/Pecuniary Jurisdiction: AED 20,000 is the minimum value of a civil suit for the jurisdiction of the court to be automatically triggered. In cases where the value is less than AED 20,000, permission of the Court must be sought before the appeal is filed.
Time Limit: The aggrieved party must appeal the decision of the Court of First Instance before the Court of Appeal within 30 days. This may be extended by the courts in some circumstances. Failure to observe the time limit for filing on an appeal will result in the extinguishment of the right of appeal.
Procedure: First, all the relevant documents must be submitted to the Court of Appeal by both the parties, including pleadings, memoranda and evidence. Then, the parties are invited to comment on the submissions. Counter appeals are accepted as well, on the condition that they are filed before the date of the first hearing in the appeal. After this, the Court of Appeal reserves the matter for judgment.
Executable until stayed: The judgments delivered by the Court of Appeal are final and executable. Although an appeal can be filed by the aggrieved party before the Court of Cassation, the judgment of the Court of Appeal remains executable till an interlocutory order to stay the execution of the judgment is granted by the Court of Cassation.
The Court of Cassation
Judgments delivered by the Court of Appeal may be challenged before the Court of Cassation, the final appellate court and highest body in the Dubai judicial system. All decisions of this court are final and binding and cannot be subjected to further appeal.
Judges: Each circuit of the Court of Cassation is formed by a Chief Justice and four other judges.
Jurisdiction: The circuits examine criminal cases, personal claims as well as civil and commercial suits.
Interpretation of law: The primary function of this highest court is jurisprudence and interpretation of law. The judgments issued by this court are published in the court gazette and become principles of law that inform the interpretation of the laws in the future. At this stage of the litigation, parties may only appeal points of law, such as an erroneous interpretation, determination of a statutory right or incorrect application of a legal provision.
Value of Claims: For civil cases, the minimum value of the matter to automatically trigger the jurisdiction of the Court of Cassation is AED 200,000. For cases of value less than this amount, permission must first be sought from the Court. There is no such minimum value or fees for criminal appeals, but they can be filed by the aggrieved party alone.
Time Limit: An appeal before the Court of Cassation must be filed within 60 days from the day following the issuance of judgment by the Court of Appeal unless otherwise provided by the applicable law, and 10 days in urgent matters. The time limit may be extended by the courts in some circumstances.
Procedure: After hearing both parties and examining all the submissions, the Court of Cassation may either deliver final judgment, or transfer the case back to the Court of Appeal for further examination. If the case is sent back to the Court of Appeal, further hearings may be ordered in the matter. The parties retain the right to appeal to the Court of Cassation again on a point of law.
- In rare circumstances, aggrieved parties can request the Court of Cassation to review its own judgment. e.g. when it can be established that a fraud was committed by the winning party.
- Note that the New Law of 2014 allowed the commencement of claims and appeals electronically. However, appeals to the Court of Cassation remains an exception to this.
- Power of Attorney is key for representation of clients by lawyers before the Dubai Courts.
- The official language of the Dubai Courts is Arabic and all proceedings are conducted and recorded in Arabic. The statements of those who are non-Arabic speakers, including witnesses, is heard by the court with the help of a legal translator, who has to take an oath unless he was sworn in at the time of joining the court system.
- Injunctive reliefs and interim remedies are not very common in the courts of UAE, other than summary judgments and interim attachment orders.
- Experts are often appointed directly by the court to review documents, meet litigants and provide an expert report to the courts.
- There are no formal discovery or inspection procedures.
- Costs awarded: While costs are awarded in favor of the winning litigant, they are often nominal and only serve to cover expert fee, court fees and some part of the advocacy – a refund of the entire professional fees for the winning party is usually not awarded.
- Confidentiality: Hearings are said to be public, however most often with little or no oral hearing. Court files cannot be inspected by the public and only litigating parties have access to these records. Thus, although in theory, all proceedings are public, in practice, they remain confidential.