July 17, 2019

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Dubai’s Legal System

Law in Dubai falls under the jurisdiction of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which comprises seven federated emirates. The Constitution of the UAE establishes a federal jurisdiction as well as local jurisdictions within each emirate. In Dubai, the three chief sources of law are federal law, local Dubai law and Shariah or Islamic law.

Sharia Law

The UAE is governed by a civil law system in which Sharia plays a significant role. The UAE is officially Muslim and the Constitution declares that Sharia is the main source of all UAE legislation. As a result, courts tend to interpret legislation in accordance with Sharia principles, especially when Muslim UAE nationals are involved. Where non-Muslims are involved, courts may take a hybrid approach and secular interpretations of the law may be allowed.


The Supreme Council of Rulers is the foremost legislative body in the UAE. The National Assembly is made up of representatives chosen by each Emirate. The laws of the federation are proposed by the Federal Council of Ministers and the National Assembly, and then passed down by the Supreme Council of Rulers.

Court system

While there is a hierarchy of federal courts in the UAE with the Abu Dhabi Supreme Court as the highest court of appeal, Dubai does not participate in the federal judicial system and instead has its own judicial system.

The Court of First Instance is split into several divisions including the Civil Court, the Criminal Court, the Commercial Court, the Real Estate Court, the Labour Court and the Personal Status Court or Sharia Court. The Sharia Court handles mainly civil disputes between Muslim parties. Matters involving at least one non-Muslim party will not be heard in the Sharia Court. Sharia principles are applied to matrimonial cases unless one party is not Muslim.

Decisions made in the lower courts may be appealed in the Court of Appeal, which has its own divisions that run parallel to those of the Court of First Instance. For instance, in the Civil Court, parties have 30 days after a judgment is made to appeal on points of fact or law so that their case can be heard in the Civil Court division of the Court of Appeal. At this stage of appeal, parties are permitted to adduce further evidence or call witnesses who were not previously called.

The Court of Cassation marks the highest level of appeal in Dubai. Cases heard in the Court of Appeal must be appealed within 30 days to be heard in the Court of Cassation. Whereas the Court of Appeal hears appeals based on points of fact or law, the Court of Cassation hears only appeals based on points of law. Decisions made in the Court of Cassation cannot be appealed further.

Dubai International Financial Centre courts

The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) courts operate based on common law principles and may hear civil and commercial disputes in which DIFC-based companies are involved.

Centre for Amicable Settlement of Disputes

Small-medium enterprises and investors may have a dispute resolved at the Centre for Amicable Settlement of Disputes if their claims do not exceed AED 20,000. If a resolution is successful, parties may validate the decision and have it sanctioned by a judge, after which it will be legally binding. If no resolution is reached, the case may then be sent to court.