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CONTENTS United Arab Emirates  Economic AnalysisLegal Information Info-Prod Country Guide  

Legal Review

The legal system of the UAE is based on its constitution which has finally been approved by the Federal National Council in 1996, replacing the provisional documents which had been renewed every five years since the country's creation in 1971. The Constitution establishes the principal instruments of Federal authority as follows:

  • The Supreme Council of the Federation, composed of the seven sheikhs of the seven Emirates, has the power to enact legislation, establish policy, appoint persons to office and to assume supreme supervision of the Federation's affairs. Decisions should be approved by a majority of five, which must include the votes of the sheikhs of Abu-Dhabi and Dubai.
  • The President and Vice President of the Federation are elected by the Supreme Council from among its members and have overall responsibility for the administration of federal laws and affairs.
  • The Council of Ministers performs the function of a cabinet.
  • The Federal National Council has advisory authority.
  • The Federal judiciary.

The constitution provides a rather detailed list of citizens rights and liberties and lays down the rules of priority between federal and Emirate legislation. Under Article 151 of the constitution, federal law has precedence over legislation of the Emirates.



The Federal judicial system in the UAE consists of Federal Courts of First Instance, two Federal Courts of Appeal in Sharjah and Abu Dhabi and a Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi, the latter composed of five judges including a President of the Court. The Supreme Court has both appellate and original jurisdiction. The individual Emirates retained their own Islamic Shari'a courts which exist parallel to the Federal Courts. Dubai, however, has not merged its courts with the federal judiciary and the rules for admission to the Dubai bar are different than those for admission to the federal bar.

Whereas the majority of advocates in the UAE were, and to a large extent still are expatriates, the UAE has now started to enforce Law No. 21 of 1991 under which only UAE nationals will be allowed to represent clients in local courts, and expatriate lawyers may only continue to serve as legal consultants.

Further, it is notable that the Federal Cabinet in the UAE has approved a draft treaty that would provide for the mutual enforcement of judgments as well as judicial corporation in other areas among the GCC member states. Under the treaty, judgments issued by a court in one of the GCC states in civil, commercial administrative or personal status matters would be enforceable in all other GCC countries.

Alternative Dispute Resolution and Arbitration

UAE courts usually enforce the intention of the parties to arbitrate disputes as expressed in a contractual arbitration clause. The courts, however, sometimes substitute clauses providing for arbitration outside of the UAE for local venue. UAE courts will often not enforce foreign judgments or honor contractual choice of law provisions.

Arbitration proceedings are usually carried out by the individual Emirates though their respective Chambers of Commerce and Industry which are quasi-state organizations. The Dubai Chamber of Commerce has published Rules of Commercial Conciliation and Arbitration which are used by its Commercial Conciliation and Arbitration Center.

In this context, it should also be noted that according to Dubai Law No.4 of 1997 (amending and clarifying a 1996 law), the government of Dubai must consent to being sued. According to a July 1992 Directive, however, no such consent is required if an arbitration clause in any contract to which the government is a party is invoked.


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