Three levels of court
To achieve the full extent of justice, the UAE adopts three levels of courts for litigation purposes. This system enables effected party to challenge the case and present more evidence within the provisions of the law. The courts' degrees in the UAE are:
- Court of First Instance (federal and local)
- Court of Appeal (federal and local)
- Federal Supreme Court (at the federal level) and the Court of Cassation at the local level of the emirates which have independent judicial departments.
If the ruling of the Court of First Instance is not satisfactory, it can be challenged before the Court of Appeal and then the Court of Cassation according to the provisions of Federal Law No. 11 of 1992, as amended by Law No. 10 of 2014 concerning the Civil Procedural Law (PDF).
Court of First Instance
Court of First Instance is the first degree of litigation and has the jurisdiction to hear all civil, commercial, administrative, labour and personal status lawsuits. Its jurisdiction includes examining statement of claims, authentication of documents, all urgent matters related to disputes among the people and safeguarding their rights. It is also in charge of enforcing judicial execution deeds, as well as executions by deputation or reference.
Court of Appeal
Court of Appeal is the second degree of litigation which entitles the litigant affected by the Court of First Instance to appeal his/her case before a higher court in accordance with the provisions of the civil and criminal procedural laws effective in the UAE.
Only the convicted may appeal the court judgement. Thus, appeal is not possible to anyone who accepts the ruling explicitly or implicitly.
The time limit to challenge a ruling starts from the day following its issuance, unless the law provides otherwise. The time limit for appeal shall be 30 days unless otherwise provided by the law, and 10 days in urgent cases. The failure to observe the time limits of appeal in the judgements results in the extinguishment of the right of appeal.
Court of Cassation
Court of Cassation is the higher judicial body with power to try cases contested by the Court of Appeals. It supervises the interpretation of laws and its proper enforcement.
At this court, litigants may appeal only on points of law alone, such as violation of law or on erroneous application or interpretation. The appeal must be filed within 60 days of the judgement of the Court of Appeal if the value claimed in the action exceeds AED 200,000 or cannot be evaluated.
All decisions of Court of Cassation are final and binding and are not subject to appeal.
Judicial circuits are branches of court according to specialty and jurisdiction. Each level of court has a circuit to look into the various types of cases such as: personal status cases, criminal cases and civil cases. The division is based on the scope of the case and expertise of the judges. Each court is presided over by a president and supported by a judge or number of judges and administrative staff. In addition, each court has judicial circuits including personal status, civil, criminal, commercial, labour and real estate.
The litigant should know the category into which his lawsuit falls to determine the court circuit that would hear his case.
The court circuits are major and minor which differ depending on the value , the type of the case, and the number of judges.
According to Article 30 of Federal Law No. 11 of 1992, as amended by Law No. 10 of 2014 concerning the Civil Procedural Law (PDF), the minor circuits are formed by a single judge, who issues first instance judgements on civil, commercial, and labour actions, whose value does not exceed AED 500,000 and counterclaims whatever was their value.
Also it reviews actions on :
- personal status
- division of common property
- those related to the claim and specification of wages and salaries whatever was their value.
In all cases, the minor circuits' judgements shall be final if the value of the lawsuit does not exceed AED 20,000.
The major circuits are formed of three judges. They have jurisdiction over all civil, commercial and labour actions, which do not fall within the jurisdiction of the minor circuits. In addition, they handle:
- administrative and real estate actions irrespective of their value
- temporary or summary claims and all other counterclaims, as well as the claims related to the original request
- bankruptcy and preventive composition lawsuits.
Labour courts handle cases relating to labour disputes in the private sector. They apply the Federal Decree Law No. 33 of 2021 Regarding the Regulation of Employment Relationship and Cabinet Regulation No. 1 of 2022.
Labour disputes usually concern non-payment of salaries and end of service benefits, rejection of leave and compensation for arbitrary dismissal.
Workers are exempt from paying litigation fees for claims less than AED 100,000.
Personal status court (Sharia)
Personal status court handles all family cases related to matters such as marriage, divorce, alimony, guardianship, custody and visitation, proof of maturity, proof of lineage and inheritance.
Federal Law No. 28 of 2005 applies to personal status cases. Article 1 of the Law provides that the Law shall apply to all UAE nationals except non-Muslims in which case they shall be governed by special rules relating to their specific creed or sect.
The Family Guidance Section usually handles personal status cases free of charge before they are referred to trial at the Court of First Instance.
If both parties fail to reach an amicable agreement, the dispute will be referred to the Court of First Instance after the payment of the court fee, if applicable.
Civil courts handle the cases related to the financial rights of individuals and legal entities such as government departments, companies and institutions. The cases can be related to disputes about validity, implementation, cancellation or termination of contracts, intellectual properties, lands and mortgages.
The major circuit of the Court of First Instance is responsible for hearing cases with a claimed value of more than AED 100,000, while cases below this value are brought before the minor circuit.
Federal Law No. 5 of 1985 (text in Arabic) applies to civil cases.
Commercial courts handle commercial contracts and commitments, banking processes, commercial papers, bankruptcy and its reconciliation issues.
Federal Law No. 18 of 1993 regarding commercial transactions (text in Arabic) regulates types of cases related to above issues.
These courts handle criminal cases initiated by the federal or local prosecution in each emirate.