Jurisdiction in the United Arab Emirates - RAALC Law Firm

Jurisdiction in the United Arab Emirates

Onshore jurisdiction

The United Arab Emirates legal structure has two systems – the Federal Judiciary, controlled by the Federal Supreme Court, and the local judicial departments at the local government level. Each of the Emirates is able to choose which one of the two systems to operate under.

Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras al Khaimah uphold their own judicial systems independently from the federal court system, and therefore are not overseen by the UAE Supreme Court, save for certain jurisdictional disputes or where there is a dispute between the Emirates themselves.

Dubai’s courts have three levels of courts, and each court has a civil, criminal and Sharia division. All documents and submission within the Dubai Courts system are to be presented in Arabic by Emirati Lawyers.

The Dubai Courts are governed by the civil law principles where the Court undertakes a form of inquisitorial approach by directing the parties to make written memorandums.

There are four types of court: civil courts, commercial courts, labor courts and personal status courts. The courts are divided into two circuits: the minor and major circuits.

The UAE Civil Procedure Code, Federal Decree-Law No. 42/2022, governs the civil procedure in onshore courts. Onshore UAE operates under a civil law system and statutes are the primary source of law.

Article 20 of Federal Law No. 11/1992 on the Civil Procedures Code (CPC) stipulates that UAE Courts have jurisdiction to examine claims against UAE citizens and foreigners who reside within the United Arab Emirates.

Article 21 of the CPC states that UAE courts have jurisdiction over claims filed against a foreigner who has no residence or domicile in the UAE, even if one of the defendants resides in the UAE.

As per Articles 34 to 41 of the Civil Procedure Code, onshore courts will have exclusive jurisdiction over certain types of matters: those related to properties located within the UAE, an event that occurs in the UAE, and proceedings that involve a transaction that was made or allegedly made in the UAE.

By virtue of the UAE Civil Procedure Code, UAE courts generally assume jurisdiction of disputes that relate to entities based out of or domiciled in the UAE. Additionally, the courts will assume jurisdiction to hear claims against a foreign entity, even if it is not resident or domiciled in the UAE if the act complained of relates to an obligation executed, concluded, or conditioned within the UAE.

The UAE Civil Code gives the onshore courts extensive powers to determine matters involving a UAE party. Therefore, it is possible that the UAE onshore courts will accept jurisdiction over a case despite the parties agreeing a different jurisdiction in the case of a contract for instance.

Choosing the wrong jurisdiction in the case of a contract can result in any governing law clause agreed by the parties being without legal effect. In this case, onshore courts will generally apply UAE law in spite of the choice of an alternative law by the parties.

In the context of a jurisdiction clause inserted in a contract, UAE courts will consider any clause which designates another jurisdiction to rule on the dispute as null and void. UAE courts will examine the case if a foreigner or the defendant resides in the UAE.

Pursuant to Article 26(1) of the UAE Civil Code, local courts will not have jurisdiction where the parties to a contract have expressly included a foreign governing law clause. However, in practice, this is slightly more nuanced due to Article 19 of the UAE Civil Code. Irrespective of whether a foreign jurisdiction has been nominated by the parties, if a party is domiciled in the UAE, there remains a risk that the UAE courts may accept jurisdiction over any disputes brought before them. If they do so, onshore UAE law may be applied irrespective of the governing law provisions agreed by the parties.

In addition, the UAE will not give effect to jurisdiction clauses providing for a foreign court to determine a dispute if the subject matter relates to commercial agency, real estate matters connected to the UAE, and employment.

Offshore Courts

The UAE hosts two judicial free zones, DIFC and ADGM, which are independent English-language common law jurisdictions, with the DIFC having its own laws modelled on English law and the ADGM largely adopting English Law. All documents and submissions within the DIFC Courts require all documents and submissions to be in English.

The DIFC takes its jurisdiction from the Judicial Authority Law. It empowers the DIFC Courts to hear disputes arising between DIFC entities, from contracts or actions executed in the DIFC, or when parties have submitted themselves to the DIFC Court’s jurisdiction. The choice of jurisdiction is a choice between the parties.

A difficulty may arise when a dispute arises concerning both a gateway to the DIFC Courts and a gateway to onshore Dubai courts. In this case, the Joint Judicial Committee will have jurisdiction to determine the appropriate court to hear the dispute.

If conflicting judgments arise between the onshore Dubai Courts and the DIFC Courts involving the same parties and the same matter of dispute, the Joint Judicial Committee may also determine which judgment should be enforced.

Criminal cases

As per Article 7 of the Criminal Procedures Law, as amended, Public Prosecution has exclusive jurisdiction to initiate and prosecute criminal proceedings.

The Federal Law Number 3 of 1987, states within Article 16 that the Penal Code will apply to any person who commits a crime inside the territory of the State. The State consists of the lands and any place under its sovereignty, including territorial waters and airspace above.

A crime is considered to have been committed in the territory of the State if any of its constituent acts occurs therein, or if the result has been, or is intended to be, realized therein.

However, the jurisdiction of the United Arab Emirates over a criminal case committed outside its territory typically depends on several factors. If the suspect is a UAE national and commits a crime abroad, the UAE may assert jurisdiction over them. The UAE may also have extradition agreements with other countries, allowing them to request the extradition of individuals who have committed crimes in those countries. Furthermore, if the victim of the crime is a UAE national, this may also influence the UAE’s jurisdiction.

In accordance with Article 22 of the Penal Code, if a citizen becomes involved in an act which constitutes a crime as per this law, such person will be sanctioned in accordance with this law when he comes back to the country, provided that such a commission or omission is punishable in accordance with the law of the state within which the perpetration occurs.

The UAE law will apply to anyone who commits a crime against UAE citizens even outside the country. Furthermore, the UAE will be entitled to have jurisdiction over the case of a criminal offense which happened outside its territory if the country’s interest is involved.

Definite exception to the territorial applicability of the Criminal Law.

In this situation, a state will take it upon themselves to punish persons who have committed a crime abroad. Pronouncement of the punishment must occur in the State whose law has been broken and can only require execution if the offenders come within its territory. The UAE Law follows upon with jurisdiction over offenses committed abroad claimed within broad limits.

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