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Judicial Foundation and Legal Codification

The Constitution, first written in 1971 and reaffirmed several times since then, declares Shari’a to be a principle source for law in the United Arab Emirates. Additional influences on the UAE legal system are the Common Law and Egyptian legal traditions. Custom and tradition are also considered in judicial decision-making.

The major codifications of the law are the Civil Code, contained in Law No. 5 of 1985; Federal Penal Code, contained in Law No. 3 of 1987; the Law of Evidence in Civil and Commercial Matters, contained in Law No. 10 of 1992; the Code of Civil Procedure, contained in Law No. 11 of 1992; and the Code of Criminal Procedure, contained in Law No. 35 of 1992. The official language of the courts is Arabic.

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Judicial Structure and Court System

Civil matters are dealt with by the federal judiciary structure of UAE, although two emirates, Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah, remain outside of this structure. The lowest courts in the system are the Courts of First Instance, located in each of the emirates. There is a two-tiered appellate system beyond the Courts of First Instance: the Federal Appeal Court, located in each of the emirates, and the highest court in the structure, the Court of Cassation. There are separate criminal and Shari’a courts. While the criminal courts have a separate appeal system, cases heard in the Shari’a Courts of First Instance may be appealed to the Civil Courts of Appeal and the Court of Cassation in Abu Dhabi.

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Judicial Authority and Appointment of Judges

The president appoints all judges to their posts; justices for the Court of Cassation must be approved by the Federal Supreme Council. UAE nationals retain their appointment for life, unless they are either unable to carry out their duties or subject to discipline for misconduct. The Minister of Justice brings charges against sitting judges, who must then face a trial by a purely judicial body. Judges who are not natives of the UAE serve under renewable contracts of specified duration.

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Supreme Court

The Court of Cassation, located in Abu Dhabi, serves as the final court of appeal for all cases heard in the lower courts and is also empowered to adjudicate any disputes between courts in the individual emirates. In addition, the Court of Cassation is the body empowered to determine the constitutionality of laws, including statutes promulgated at both the local and federal levels. The Court of Cassation has jurisdiction to investigate misconduct by high government officials and to try offenses against the Federation.

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Constitutionality of Laws – Judicial Review

The Court of Cassation is also entrusted with judicial review for all legislation, both for laws that originate at the federal level and for those enacted by the individual emirates.

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Judicial Education and Profession

The legal profession is governed by Federal Law No. 23 of 1991, which states that only nationals of the United Arab Emirates with appropriate legal qualifications are entitled to appear before the courts as lawyers.

The UAE has a system for legal education, but as yet has not been able to train sufficient numbers of judges to fill the seats available. Many native UAE judges received their judicial training overseas.

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