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Seven Emirates of the Arab peninsula namely Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Umm Al Qwain made a coalition in the year 1971. This coalition was given the name of United Arab Emirates (UAE). The area before that time was called the Trucial Coast. Within a short span of time since inception, the UAE managed to generate a stable economy. It has a free market economy with a flourishing private sector but the State holds major share in the utilities like water and electricity. The main outline of the UAE law is based on Sharia (derived from Quran and the teachings of Prophet Mohammed PBUH). According to the constitution of the UAE, each of the seven Emirates had the right to join the Federal Legal System or to have its own independent legal system. Out of the seven Emirates, only five agreed to join the Federal Legal System. The two Emirates that did not join were Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah.
The UAE’s legal system was recently adjudged to be 13th on the basis of eight factors, viz. fundamental rights, government power limitations, anti-corruption, peace and order, open government, regulatory enforcement, access to the courts, and effective criminal justice. Elizabeth Broomhall wrote, “The World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index 2011 rated UAE as 13th globally on its adherence to the rule of law, seven places above its Western counterparts, which came 20th.” (Broomhall, 2011)
The main guiding principles of the UAE law have been derived from Egyptian and European legal codes, apart from the Sharia. There are several civil and commercial codes that the UAE has ratified. The structure of the UAE law is quite complicated and people who are not familiar with it, find it very difficult to deal with it.
The judicial system of the UAE functions in a dual structure that consists of the local judiciary and the federal judiciary. The association between these two structures is regulated by articles 94 to 109 of the UAE Constitution. These articles illustrate the core principles of both the structures. The features have been left to the discretion of the local judiciaries in a manner that may not contradict the core principles laid down by the Constitution. There are two main divisions namely criminal and civil and three stages of justice namely Courts of First Instance, Courts of Appeal and the Federal Supreme Court (referred to as the Court of Cassation). There is a third division called the Sharia Court. The word “Sharia” has been derived from Quran (holy book of Islam) and is a combination of fundamentals of Quran and the teachings of Prophet Mohammed PBUH. Andrew Tarbuck & Chris Lester wrote, “Dubai’s legal system is founded upon civil law principles (most heavily influenced by Egyptian law) and Islamic Shari’a law, the latter constituting the guiding principle and source of law.” (Tarbuck, 7). Sharia court mainly deals with personal matters like marriage, divorce, legacy, etc. Lately, serious criminal cases, labor and some commercial matters have also been brought under the jurisdiction of the Sharia Court.
Constitution of the UAE:
After its inception in 1971, the UAE set up a temporary constitution. Once the UAE established itself in the world and also at the home front, the temporary constitution was converted into a permanent one. The Constitution covers all aspects like the rights of its citizens, financial affairs, armed and military forces, etc. According to the Constitution, the Federal Supreme Council is the premier constitutional power in the UAE. Ahmed Aly Khedr and Bassam Alnuaimi wrote, “This constitution explains the main rules of the political and constitutional organization of the state. In fact, it has demonstrated the main purpose of establishment of the federation, its objectives and components on the local and regional levels. It has also elaborated on the major social and economic pillars of federation and stressed public rights….” (Khedr et al, 2010). In the Constitution, Islam has been recognized as the state religion.
Federal Judiciary System:
The Federal Supreme court was established in the year 1973, with the issuance of the Federal Law No. (10). The Federal Supreme Court, the Federal First Instance Courts and the Federal Appeal Courts come under the jurisdiction of the Federal Supreme Court. The Federal Supreme Court is the highest judiciary authority in the UAE, and is based in Abu Dhabi. It comprises of a president and up to five judges. These office bearers are appointed by a decree that is issued by the President of the UAE in consultation with the Supreme Council. The verdicts of the Federal Supreme Court are decisive and obligatory to all.
Local Judiciary System:
The UAE Constitution gives liberty to all its seven provinces to either join the Federal Judiciary System or to maintain its own independent judiciary system. Almost 80% of the total area of the UAE and almost 75% of the country’s population are governed by the Local Judiciary.
Laws and Decrees:
Laws in the UAE started being developed with the inception of the UAE Union in 1971. A number of Federal and local laws were written in order to maintain peace and harmony in the country and also the association between the provinces. Under the provision of the UAE Constitution, Federal laws are made and issued. First, a bill or a draft is prepared by the Cabinet and submitted to the Federal National Council for reviewing and making recommendations and amendments (if any). Once the bill is cleared by the Federal National Council, it is presented before the President of the country for approval. Once approved, the bill is presented before the Federal Supreme Council for approval and after the approval is given, the President signs it and it becomes a Law.
For local laws to be issued, the Executive Council is bound by Article No. 6 of the Law No. (2) of 1971, to refer a draft or bill of the proposed law to the National Consultative Council. After recommendation from the National Consultative Council, the law is presented before the Ruler of the Emirates for signatures. Thus a local law is issued.
The President of the UAE has the powers to issue urgent Federal laws via decrees, with the condition that any decree should not violate the Constitution. Such decrees have the force of law until they are presented before the Supreme Council within a maximum of one week. The Supreme Council has the power to accept or reject any decree. If the decree is approved, it takes the name of law and retains its force.
Sometimes ordinary decrees are also issued. For such decrees, approval from the President and the Cabinet is a must. These are published in the official Gazette and the duration depends on the nature of the decision. Such decrees are issued for matters pertaining to urgent issues such as appointment of public officials or international matters.
There are certain matters that don’t need a law or a decree. The Cabinet has the powers to issue such decisions. These are related to the performance of the government and its ministers.
There are several laws relating to the business transactions also. Some of the important laws are enlisted here. Charging interest on money is forbidden. Partners of any business have to share the losses also as they share the profits. It is prohibited to have uncertainty (gharar) in a contract. Parties entering into a contract should do so at their own will and not by force.
To conclude, the UAE law is both rigid and flexible but very effective. All the inhabitants, whether they are locals or expatriates, are bound to respect and follow the law. The penalties for offenders are very severe.