Legal System and Law Firms in the UAE

The United Arab Emirates comprises of the Seven Emirates: Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Um al Quwain and Ajman. The UAE also has several Free Zone entities across its seven Emirates and each free zone is designed around one or more business industry categories and an independent Free Zone Authority (FZA) governs each free zone. Today, the UAE offers close to forty multidisciplinary free zones that allow for full ownership of complies for ex-pats. The most popular names being the Jebel Ali freezone (JAFZA), Dubai Airport Freezone (DAFZA), Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), Sharjah Media City Free Zone (Shams), Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone (RAKEZ) and Financial free zones such as Dubai International Free zone Centre (DIFC), and Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) among others.

Though often stated as a civil law system, the UAE is in fact constitutes a dual legal system of civil and Sharia laws. Further, the country has also introduced common law to a certain extent, as the same is practised in the Dubai International Free zone Centre (DIFC). DIFC describes its presence as a unique legal framework that is based on international standards and principles of common law that are focused to cater to regional requirements. Overall, the legal system in the UAE draws from the Islamic Sharia law, however, most of the codified laws of the UAE can be defined to be a mixture of both Islamic Sharia laws as well as the legal influences from the Egyptian and French Civil laws. The local court system in the UAE consists of a three-tier system comprising of the Court of First Instance (federal and local), Court of Appeal (federal and local), Court of Cassation at the local level o the emirates and the Federal Supreme Court (at the federal level). The Three-tier legal system essentially allows the parties to challenge the court’s judgment with a higher court and to be able to present more evidence as well as participate in further adjudication in a given matter.

This brings us to the next subject as to how is the legal profession including law firms regulated in the UAE. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) oversees courts and prosecution departments across the UAE at the federal level, and the federal judiciary of the UAE consists of the Federal Supreme Court, Federal Courts and Public prosecution. At the emirate level, there exists further classification, for instance, in the emirate of Dubai, the legal affairs department (LAD) has been established since 2008. The LAD is affiliated to the Ruler’s court and has been constituted to provide various legal services for the emirate of Dubai. Amongst its major responsibilities, the LAD is instrumental in the licensing and training of legal consultants and advocates. The legal consultants are essentially ex-pat lawyers, who are allowed to practice law to the extent of issuing legal advice and handling corporate and commercial legal matters. However, they are limited to the extent of pleading before the UAE courts, and the said role is reserved for advocates.  Law firms in Dubai must be licensed by the Legal Affairs Department and registered with the Department of Economic Development. When reaching out to a legal firm or an attorney at law in the UAE, ensure to enquire more about their services, first of all the law firm should be registered in the given emirate, and its lawyers should be licensed to practice the law. Each emirate maintains a list of registered law firms licensed to practice within the said emirate. Ensure to make your search specific, for e.g. search for “List of Law Firms In Abu Dhabi”. Similarly, there are official databases listing the registered attorneys in UAE. Further, it is advantageous to be represented by a full-service law that has a good reputation and experience in a variety of legal subjects and has the combination of both advocate and legal consultants. When it doubt reach out to only the best and most reputed law firms in the UAE with an undisputed track record.