The Dispute Resolution Review: United Arab Emirates

Introduction to the dispute resolution framework

i The legal system

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven emirates: Abu Dhabi (the capital), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain. The UAE adopts a dual civil and Islamic shariah legal system, influenced by French, Egyptian and Roman principles. The primary source of law in the UAE is the UAE Constitution2 (as amended), which provides that the official religion of the federal union is Islam.3 In practice, however, like other civil law jurisdictions, legislation in the UAE is codified in federal codes that have been promulgated pursuant to Article 121 of the UAE Constitution.

The principal federal codes currently in force are the Civil Transactions Law,4 the Commercial Transactions Law,5 the Companies Law,6 the Labour Law,7 the Civil Procedure Law8 and the Federal Arbitration Law.9 Where there is no provision in the codified statutes dealing with a particular issue, judges are to have regard to shariah law, and specifically the Islamic shariah schools of Imam Malik and Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal and, as a last resort, from the schools of Imam Al-Shafie and Imam Abu Hanifa.10

Each of the seven emirates can elect to join the federal judicial system or to maintain its own local judicial system. The emirates of Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah and Umm Al Quwain follow the federal judicial system. The emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah have elected to retain their own local judicial system over matters that are not assigned to the federal judiciary under the UAE Constitution. Federal laws still apply to the emirates that are not part of the federal judiciary system.

There is no doctrine of stare decisis in the UAE and therefore there is no system of binding precedent that the courts are bound to follow. Principles of law established by the higher courts, the Federal Supreme Court (which covers Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain), the Dubai Court of Cassation, the Ras Al Khaimah Court of Cassation and the Abu Dhabi Court of Cassation, have persuasive effect on the lower courts.

ii The court system

The UAE court system

The UAE court system can be broken down into two categories. The first is the federal court system, which applies to the emirates that have elected to join the federal judicial system. The second is the local courts of Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi that have jurisdiction in those individual emirates only.

There are three tiers of courts within the federal court system and the local court system. The first is the court of first instance, which is where proceedings are commenced. The second is the court of appeal, which allows for appeals on issues of fact or law. The third is the Supreme Court, which provides a further right of appeal albeit limited to points of law only.

There are special divisions within each of these courts that are established to hear specific types of matters. For example, the Dubai courts consist of the civil courts, commercial courts, criminal courts, labour courts, real estate courts, personal status courts and execution courts.

The personal status or shariah courts are largely limited to hearing personal status and family matters and follow shariah principles for marriage and divorce, succession, personal status and inheritance.

Financial Free Trade Zones

There are various financial free trade zones that have been established in the UAE that allow for, inter alia, 100 per cent foreign ownership of companies incorporated within the free zone. These free zones are governed by their own framework of regulations and laws, subject only to the UAE Constitution, UAE Penal Code11 and international treaties entered into by the UAE.

Some of the most common free zones in the UAE include the Ras Al Khaimah Free Zone, the Jebel Ali Free Zone, Dubai Media City, the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM).

The DIFC and ADGM have a unique set-up as these free zones operate as autonomous common law jurisdictions with an independent judiciary within the emirate in which they are geographically situated.

The DIFC was established in 2004 by Federal Decree No. 35 of 2004. The DIFC has a number of independent bodies, including a DIFC Judicial Authority and Dubai Financial Services Regulatory Authority (DFSA), which was established by Dubai Law No. 9 of 2004. A DIFC Court of First Instance and DIFC Court of Appeal have been established12 to have jurisdiction in civil and commercial matters in the DIFC, relating to contracts fulfilled or transactions carried out there (in whole or in part) or where parties have opted for the jurisdiction of the DIFC Courts. The DIFC Court of First Instance includes a Technology and Construction Division, Small Claims Tribunal and the DIFC Small Claims Leasing Tribunal.13

The ADGM was established in 2013 by Federal Decree No. 15 of 2013 and Cabinet Resolution No. 4 of 2013. Similarly, the ADGM has its own Financial Services Regulatory Authority and Judicial Authority, which were established under Abu Dhabi Law No. 4 of 2013. There are two levels of courts in the ADGM: the ADGM Court of First Instance and the ADGM Court of Appeal. The Court of First Instance consists of a Civil Division, Employment Division and Small Claims Division.

iii The framework for alternative dispute resolution procedures

The increasing number of international companies operating within the UAE, legal reforms in the region, including the enactment of the Federal Arbitration Law, and the heavy caseload of the onshore UAE courts are the driving forces behind alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms becoming more prevalent and accepted in the UAE. These ADR mechanisms range from arbitration, mediation and other adjudicative services offered by different federal authorities and ministries.

Arbitration is a recognised method of dispute resolution that has grown in popularity since the UAE's accession to the New York Convention14 in 2006. In June 2018, the Federal Arbitration Law came into effect. The Federal Arbitration Law is based on the UNCITRAL Model Law and repealed the previous provisions of the UAE Civil Procedure Law15 that governed arbitrations seated in the UAE (outside the DIFC and ADGM).

There is no formal legislation that governs the enforcement of decisions of conciliation boards or mediators and ADR procedures are considered contractual arrangements entered into between parties. Mediation and conciliatory services are becoming more prevalent in the UAE with these services being promoted by government authorities and ministries to assist with pre-litigation resolution of disputes.

The year in review

In June 2016 a Judicial Tribunal for the Dubai Courts and DIFC Courts16 (the Judicial Tribunal) was established to resolve conflicts in jurisdiction and judgments between the DIFC Courts and the onshore Dubai Courts. Recently, the Judicial Tribunal has rendered a number of decisions that reinforce the jurisdictional gateways provided by Article 5(A) of Law 12 of 2004 (as amended) in respect of the Judicial Authority at Dubai International Financial Centre,17 placing particular emphasis on the parties' active participation in proceedings before the Dubai Courts or DIFC Courts without challenging jurisdiction as grounds on which to establish jurisdiction.

This year was also marked by the practical application of the 2018 Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law. The Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law have modernised, and increased efficiencies in, the onshore UAE Courts' process by adopting procedures which include, for example, providing an expedited framework for the service of court proceedings (including by way of recorded voice call, SMS on mobile phones or any similar means of modern technology);18 the requirement for civil, commercial and labour claims valued at less than 1 million dirhams to be heard by summary procedure without recourse to the Court of Cassation;19 provisions relating to the immediate enforcement of payment orders;20 and provisions limiting challenges to the enforcement of foreign judgments, orders and instruments, via petition to the enforcement judge,21 without prejudice to grounds prescribed in international treaties to which the UAE is a party.

Court procedure

i Overview of court procedure

The Civil Procedure Law, together with the Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law, is the key code that governs civil procedure and the litigation process in the UAE. The Civil Procedure Law and the Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law apply to disputes brought before the onshore UAE Courts.

The DIFC Courts and ADGM Courts are governed by their own set of procedural rules. The DIFC Courts Law of 2004 and the Rules of the DIFC Courts 2014 govern procedure in the DIFC Courts. The ADGM Court Procedure Rules 2016 apply to all proceedings in the ADGM. Both the DIFC Courts and ADGM Courts have also issued a series of practice directions that supplement the rules of the courts.

Procedures and time frames

Onshore UAE courts

A claim is commenced in the court of first instance by filing a statement of claim and paying the court filing fee. Following service of the summons on the defendant, a first hearing is held where the defendant will usually request an adjournment to submit a statement of defence.

Provided service of process has been effected by a method permitted by the law, a case will proceed against a defendant in absentia. The plaintiff will still be required to prove its case.

During the hearings, written pleadings are submitted by advocates (typically UAE nationals) appearing on behalf of the parties. There is no set number of written pleadings prescribed in any given case. Submissions will be exchanged by the parties in turn until such time as it adjourns the case for judgment and declares the hearing closed. While a form of examination of witnesses and oral advocacy are technically permitted, in practice there is no oral advocacy or witnesses heard at hearings. Cases are determined with reliance on documentary evidence (including expert reports as referred to below) and the parties' respective legal submission.

It is common for certain aspects of a dispute to be referred to an 'expert' for assistance. The court often delegates analysis of liability and quantum issues to an expert, who is appointed from among experts listed on a court-maintained register. The court will in most cases adopt the expert's findings.

A judgment in the court of first instance is usually issued within nine to 12 months from when the proceeding was commenced. Complex cases can take up to 18 months. The appeal stages typically take less time, with the court of appeal stage taking about six to nine months to render judgment and the Court of Cassation taking about three to six months. Overall, it can take in excess of 24 months to reach a final unappealable judgment in the Court of Cassation.

Pursuant to the Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law, certain cases may now also be heard by way of a single hearing, by summary procedure. A judge presiding on summary matters can hear civil, commercial and labour claims valued at up to 100,000 dirhams, claims for signature authenticity verification and claims for unpaid wages, salaries and the like valued at up to 200,000 dirhams. Generally, such cases will be listed for hearing within 15 days of the statement of claim being filed. Judgments rendered in summary proceedings will be final and not subject to appeal if the value of the claim is up to 50,000 dirhams (or 20,000 dirhams for labour claims).22

DIFC Courts

Proceedings are commenced in the DIFC Courts by filing a claim form. There are three types of claim forms:

  1. The Small Claims Tribunal (SCT) claim form (Form P53/01) for claims that fall under the jurisdiction of the SCT where the amount of the claim does not exceed 500,000 dirhams, the claim relates to employment and all parties elect that it be heard by the SCT, or the amount of the claim does not exceed 1 million dirhams and all parties elect in writing that the case be heard by the SCT.
  2. The Part 8 claim form (Form P8/01) for claims where the claim is unlikely to involve a substantial dispute of fact or where there is a rule or practice direction that permits or requires the use of a Part 8 claim form.
  3. The Part 7 claim form (Form P7/01), the most common method for commencing a claim, for claims that do not fall under the jurisdiction of the SCT and do not require the use of a Part 8 claim form.

The Part 7 procedure, being the most common procedure, requires the claim form to be served within four months of the claim being filed. Thereafter, the claimant is required to file an acknowledgement of service and particulars of claim. The defendant is required to file a defence within 28 days of the particulars of the claim being served. The reply to defence is served by the claimant within 21 days of the service of the defence. Following the exchange of pleadings, the court registry will schedule a case management conference where the remaining timetable will be agreed. The timetable will usually provide for document production, witness statements, expert reports and the exchange of skeleton arguments. A hearing is ordinarily scheduled within six to nine months after the claim form is filed with the judgment issued within one to three months after the hearing. If the judgment of the court of first instance is appealed, it can take a further 12 months for a judgment of the court of appeal.

ADGM Courts

As with the DIFC Courts, proceedings before the ADGM Courts are also commenced by filing a claim form. The ADGM Courts have six types of claim forms.

Form CFI-1 is the standard claim form required for most claims filed before the Civil Division of the Court of First Instance. Upon filing, the claim form must include the particulars of the claim. Service of the claim form is required to be completed within four months of the claim being filed. The defendant is then required to file an acknowledgement of service within 14 days of receiving service of the claim form, and such acknowledgement must also be served on the claimant. The defendant is required to file a defence within 28 days of service of the claim. The reply to the defence is required to be filed by the claimant within 21 days of service of the defence.

Separate claim forms are required for claims filed (1) before the Small Claims Division (Form CFI-2), where the value of the claim does not exceed US$100,000 or an employment claim that both parties agree should be treated as a small claim; (2) where the claim is unlikely to involve a substantial dispute of fact, known as the 'Rule 30 Procedure' (Form CFI-2); (3) in which the claimant is seeking judicial review of an ADGM decision or enactment (Form CFI-4); (4) for the enforcement of an arbitration award (Form CFI-5); and (5) in respect of derivatives claims.

Urgent or interim remedies

In the onshore UAE courts, the DIFC Courts and the ADGM Courts there are a range of interim remedies available to claimants to preserve assets and prevent defendants from fleeing the country. There is also a mechanism by which a claimant can seek summary judgment.

Onshore UAE courts: travel bans

A claimant can apply for a travel ban against an individual defendant before filing a substantive claim if three conditions are satisfied. First, there must be serious reasons to believe that the defendant will flee the country. Second, the debt must be known, due for payment and unconditional. Third, the debt must not be less than 1,000 dirhams where the substantive claim has been filed or 10,000 dirhams where the substantive case has not yet been filed.23

If a travel ban is issued, the court will notify all ports of exit and entry into the state, and may order that the debtor's passport be deposited with the Treasury Department of the court. Travel bans are generally granted when there are pending criminal proceedings. They are also available where a judgment debtor does not comply with a final and enforceable judgment. The usual time frame to obtain a travel ban is in the range of three to five working days.

Onshore UAE courts: precautionary attachments

A claimant can seek a precautionary attachment order (essentially a freezing order) to prevent any disposition or dissipation of assets while the attachment remains in place.

The process for obtaining a precautionary attachment is to apply to the court without notice to the defendant (ex parte) setting out the nature and basis of the substantive claim. The court must be persuaded that there is a real risk of the defendant dissipating its assets before judgment, or that the claimant's rights against those assets may otherwise be prejudiced if the attachment is not granted.

The application must also specifically identify the assets against which the claimant is seeking attachment. A signed undertaking to indemnify the opposing party in the event that the order is obtained on fraudulent grounds must accompany the application.

It can take three to five days to obtain a precautionary attachment order. If the order is granted, the claimant must commence substantive proceedings within eight days of the order to confirm the order. If substantive proceedings are not commenced within the prescribed time limit, the precautionary order expires.

DIFC and ADGM Courts

Both the DIFC and ADGM Courts have power to grant interim orders prior to the commencement of proceedings and without notice to the respondent (ex parte). The types of interim remedies that can be granted by the DIFC Courts are listed at Rule 25 of the Rules of the DIFC Courts and Rule 71 of the ADGM Court Procedures Rules. In both cases, the interim remedies include: interim injunctions (DIFC Rule 25.1(1)) and ADGM Rule 71(1)(a); freezing orders (DIFC Rule 25.1(6)) and ADGM Rule 71(1)(f); disclosure orders (DIFC Rule 25.1(7) and ADGM Rule 71(1)(g)); and search orders (DIFC Rule 25.1(8) and ADGM Rule 71(1)(h)).

The procedure for seeking an interim order before either the DIFC Courts or the ADGM Courts is to make an application by filing an application notice with the court (DIFC Rule 23.2 and ADGM Rule 64(3)). An application for an interim order can be made at any time, including before a claim has been commenced. The application can be made without notice if there are good reasons for doing so, such as urgency, secrecy or tipping off or an increased risk of dissipation of assets. If an application is made without notice the evidence in support of the application must state why it is being made without notice.

Class actions

There is no provision under UAE federal law for class actions or collective actions. Each claim must therefore be filed separately, although it is possible to join additional defendants to a claim. With respect to actions within the DIFC24 and ADGM,25 it is possible to obtain a Group Litigation Order (GLO) on application in circumstances where there are, or are likely to be, a number of claims giving rise to GLO issues.

Representation in proceedings

Onshore UAE courts

Only advocates licensed by the Ministry of Justice have rights of audience before the onshore UAE courts. The advocate must, however, be authorised by a notarised power of attorney to appear before the courts on behalf of the party he or she represents.

In practice, international law firms and foreign legal consultants licensed to advise on UAE law are actively involved in the litigation. They will instruct the advocate and work with the advocate to prepare pleadings for the advocate to submit.

Any party can represent itself in court.

A company can be represented by the chairman of the board unless the articles of association of the company provide that the general manager shall represent the company before the courts. If the proceedings reach the Court of Cassation or the Federal Supreme Court stage, an advocate licensed by the Ministry of Justice must represent the company as it is a requirement that the cassation appeal is accompanied by a declaration that is signed by that advocate.

DIFC Courts

In the DIFC Courts, with the exception of the Small Claims Division (which are conducted by litigants in person without the assistance or attendance of practitioners or counsel), only practitioners who are authorised by their firm and listed under Part I of the Academy of Law's Register of Practitioners26 can issue and conduct proceedings by signing statements of truth; corresponding with the Registry regarding a case or the progression of a case; and corresponding with opposing counsel. Only practitioners who are admitted to Part II can appear and plead before a judge at hearings.

ADGM Courts

Individuals who have been practising or employed as a lawyer for a continuous period of five years immediately prior to appearing before the Court have the right to appear at hearings and plead before a judge.27 The exception to this is appearances before the Small Claims Division, where any person may appear subject to compliance with the ADGM Rules of Conduct.

Enforcement of foreign judgments

Foreign judgments can be enforced in the UAE in three ways: under a bilateral treaty; under the provisions of the Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law; or through the DIFC Courts or ADGM Courts.

Bilateral treaties

The UAE is party to a number of bilateral and multilateral conventions that provide for the reciprocal enforcement of judgments. Examples include the Paris Convention,28 the China Convention,29 the India Convention,30 the UK Convention,31 the GCC Convention32 and the Riyadh Convention.33

The terms of the treaty govern the enforcement of a judgment originating from a foreign country where there is a treaty between the UAE and that foreign country.

To enforce a foreign judgment, a claim for ratification of the foreign judgment must be filed in the court of first instance of the emirate where enforcement is sought. The application should state that enforcement is being sought under the relevant treaty and should be accompanied by any documents referred to in the treaty.

Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law

Where the UAE does not have a treaty in place with the country whose judgment is being enforced, Article 85 of the Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law applies to the enforcement of foreign judgments in the UAE (i.e., onshore).

Article 85(2)(a) of the Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law provides that an order for enforcement will be made if it is verified that the UAE Courts did not have exclusive jurisdiction to determine the dispute determined by the foreign judgment. Enforcement of foreign judgments onshore is liable to being refused if the UAE Courts consider that they had exclusive jurisdiction to determine the dispute in the first instance.

To enforce a foreign judgment, a claim for ratification of the foreign judgment must be filed in the court of first instance of the emirate where enforcement is sought. The application must be in Arabic and supported by evidence that demonstrates, among other things, that the foreign court had exclusive jurisdiction to hear the claim, the judgment is final, the defendant was duly summoned and appeared in the proceedings and the judgment is not inconsistent with morals and public policy in the UAE.


It is possible to enforce foreign judgments by utilising the conduit jurisdiction of the ADGM or DIFC Courts even where the defendant has no assets in the ADGM or DIFC (as applicable), although, with respect to the DIFC Courts, recently, there have been limitations on seeking the subsequent enforcement against assets located onshore (i.e., outside of the DIFC).

To enforce a foreign judgment in the DIFC Courts a claim must be filed either under Part 7 of the Rules of the DIFC Courts or under Part 8 of the Rules of the DIFC Courts if the claim is unlikely to involve a substantial dispute of fact. The judgment creditor would be seeking a declaration that the foreign court's order is enforceable.

Once a foreign judgment is recognised and declared enforceable by a DIFC Court judgment, it is possible to have it executed by the Dubai Courts onshore through a summary process set out in the Judicial Authority Law.

It has become increasingly common for defendants/debtors to initiate parallel proceedings in the Dubai Courts resulting in the referral of the matter to the Judicial Tribunal to determine the court retaining jurisdiction to enforce the foreign judgment.

In a similar manner to the DIFC Courts, in order to enforce a foreign judgment in the ADGM Courts, a claim must be filed before the ADGM Courts seeking a declaration of enforceability. Once the ADGM Courts have issued such declaration, the judgment may then be enforced onshore through the Abu Dhabi Courts, without a further review of the merits of the claim, in accordance with the relevant memorandum of understanding.

With respect to the ADGM, the memorandum of understanding entered into between the ADGM Courts and the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department and the Ras Al Khaimah Courts34 should resolve issues arising from any conflict of jurisdiction. The Judicial Tribunal's jurisdiction to determine conflicts of jurisdiction is limited to the Emirate of Dubai. As such, in other Emirates, conflicts of a jurisdictional nature are determined by the Courts seized of the matter.

Assistance to foreign courts

While the UAE is not a party to the Hague Convention on Civil Procedure 1954 or the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters 1965, which facilitate judicial cooperation between Member States, the UAE has treaties with various countries for judicial cooperation and legal assistance.

The UAE has signed treaties for various degrees of legal and judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters including with the following countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, China, Egpyt, France, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Morocco, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea, Tunisia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and Uzbekistan. The UAE is also party to the Riyadh Convention and the GCC Convention, as discussed above.

Neither the Civil Procedure Law nor the Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law explicitly address inward service of foreign proceedings in the UAE. Requests for legal assistance would therefore be required to comply with the treaty under which they are made.

Generally speaking, requests for legal assistance, such as relating to service of process, are made through diplomatic channels where there is no bilateral agreement or treaty between the UAE and the requesting country (i.e., the country in which the serving party is located) in relation to service of foreign proceedings in the UAE. These requests are generally required to be officially signed and authenticated by the Ministry of Justice of the requesting country, translated into Arabic and sent to the Ministry of Justice in the UAE. Once the request is received, the UAE court will summon the party to be served and send confirmation of service through the appropriate diplomatic channels.

For example, and notwithstanding the Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law, the commonly used method of effecting service in the UAE of proceedings issued in England under the relevant treaty is as follows:

  1. documents are submitted to the Foreign Process Section of the Royal Courts of Justice;
  2. the documents will be forwarded to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London;
  3. the documents will be sent to the British Embassy in the UAE;
  4. the documents will be passed to the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
  5. the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs will pass the documents to the UAE Ministry of Justice for the purposes of arranging service by the court bailiff or courier company.

Access to court files

In the onshore UAE courts, the public cannot access the court file or obtain copies of the pleadings or evidence filed during the proceedings. These records are only accessible by the parties to the proceedings and their authorised legal representatives.

DIFC and ADGM Court proceedings on the other hand are public and pleadings are accessible from the Registry or the e-Registry. The exception to this is arbitration claims, which are confidential.

Litigation funding

Third-party funding of litigation or arbitration is not prohibited under UAE law and the UAE is becoming a more attractive jurisdiction for litigation funders, particularly in view of opportunities to fund claims in the ADGM and DIFC Courts.

Legal professionals cannot however offer contingency fee arrangements that are on a 'no win, no fee' basis.35

In March 2017, the DIFC Courts issued Practice Direction No. 2 of 2017 on Third Party Funding in the DIFC Courts, which sets out the requirements to be observed by funded parties.36

On 16 April 2019, the ADGM Courts enacted Litigation Funding Rules 2019, being a set of rules applicable to litigation funding agreements.37

Legal practice

i Conflicts of interest and Chinese walls

Onshore UAE

The legal profession in the UAE is regulated by Federal Law No. 23 of 1991 (the Legal Profession Law). Each emirate also has its own independent body which governs the legal profession. For example, in Dubai, firms must be licensed by the Dubai Legal Affairs Department (DLAD) and in Abu Dhabi firms must be licensed with the Executive Affairs Authority.

Article 40 of the Legal Profession Law prevents a local advocate from acting against a client in a dispute in which he or she has already provided advice. Advocates are also prohibited from disclosing information they have obtained in the course of acting for a client. There is no express prohibition against an advocate acting against a client for whom he or she has previously acted, provided the advocate does not breach confidentiality and he or she has not acted for the same client in a dispute.

The DLAD is in the process of implementing the Charter for the Conduct of Advocates and Legal Consultants in the Emirate of Dubai. The current draft of this Charter prohibits lawyers from accepting instructions on a new matter or continuing to act on a matter in the event that a conflict of interest arises. Certain exceptions to this rule are provided.

Most international law firms operating in the UAE are subject to regulations in their country of origin, such as the Solicitors Regulatory Authority in England and Wales. Complaints regarding the conduct of a local advocate or legal consultant can also be made to the regulating body in each emirate, such as the DLAD, or the Public Prosecutor in the event of a breach of the Legal Profession Law.


The DIFC has in place the Mandatory Code of Conduct for Legal Practitioners in the DIFC Courts (the DIFC Code). The DIFC Code provides for practitioners in the DIFC with a benchmark for best practice and professional standards.

The DIFC Code regulates situations whereby there may be the potential of a client conflict. The Code prohibits lawyers from acting for another client where there may be a conflict and comprehensively sets out the circumstances where a lawyer must cease to act in the event of a conflict of interest.

Complaints in the event of a breach of the Code are to be made in writing to the Director of the DRA Academy of Law.

The ADGM Court Rules of Conduct 2016 (the ADGM Rules) apply to lawyers appearing before the ADGM Courts. The ADGM Rules contain mandatory provisions governing the duties owed by lawyers to the courts and clients and the ADGM Courts are able to order costs sanctions in circumstances of breach.38

ii Money laundering, proceeds of crime and funds related to terrorism

Lawyers are subject to the UAE's federal anti-money laundering (AML) and combating the financing of terrorism (CFT) regime.39 Lawyers in some of the UAE's financial free zones, such as the DIFC or ADGM, may be subject to additional AML/CFT regulation by the relevant free zone authorities.

Among other things, the AML/CFT regime imposes obligations on lawyers to conduct client due diligence to specified standards, confirm the source of wealth of politically exposed foreigners and report suspicious transactions to the Financial Information Unit of the Central Bank. Criminal and regulatory sanctions, including jail sentences and fines, may be imposed on firms and lawyers who commit any of the primary AML/CFT offences, or secondary offences such as failure to report suspicious activity or 'tipping off'.

iii Data protection

Onshore UAE

There are currently no specific privacy laws which apply 'onshore' in the UAE. Similarly, there is no clear definition of what will constitute 'personal information' under UAE law. The provisions that do exist under UAE law in relation to privacy and data protection are very general in their nature. These are rights enshrined in the UAE Constitution and the Penal Code.

The UAE is in the process of establishing a federal data privacy commission and assessing the need for a specific UAE data protection law. Any such law, if enacted, is likely to include provisions relating to storage, transfer and permitted use of personal data. It is not currently clear when the data protection law will be enacted.

In 2012, the UAE enacted a Cyber Crime Law.40 The law criminalises the use of information technology to commit a wide range of offences including breach of privacy and disclosure of confidential information. These offences are punishable by a fine or imprisonment or both.


The DIFC Data Protection Law41 and the ADGM Data Protection Regulations 2015 (as amended) apply to entities registered in the DIFC and ADGM (respectively), including law firms. Law firms must implement systems and safeguards to ensure that the personal data of the individual to whom the personal data relates is secure.

Law firms should obtain written consent prior to transferring any personal data outside of the DIFC or ADGM (as applicable). Personal data should not be retained for longer than necessary or for the purposes for which the personal data was collected. Policies and procedures should be put in place to ensure that personal data is reviewed regularly and, where necessary and when lawful, deleted.

Documents and the protection of privilege

i Privilege

Onshore UAE

The concept of privilege as understood in common law jurisdictions does not exist in the UAE. Rather, communications between a lawyer and client are to be treated as confidential pursuant to the professional codes of conduct and laws governing the legal profession,42 as discussed earlier in this chapter. Any information between a client and lawyer will be confidential and there is no distinction between legal and non-legal advice.

The requirement for confidentiality applies to lawyers only and in-house counsel are not subject to privilege rules. In-house counsels will be subject to the customary duty of keeping the secrets of their employers.


There is no specific legislation in the DIFC or ADGM that deals with privilege although the concept is referred to in a number of laws and regulations applicable to both DIFC and ADGM Courts. For example, under the Rules of the DIFC Courts, privilege is recognised as a ground to withhold production of disclosable documents where it is available under the legal or ethical rules determined by the court to be applicable (a similar provision exists in the ADGM Rules). It would therefore be an issue for the DIFC Court to determine the rules of privilege that apply and whether they apply to in-house counsel.

ii Production of documents

Onshore UAE

There is only limited scope to request disclosure of inter party documents in the exhaustive circumstances listed in Article 18 of the Law of Evidence.43 There is no discovery in the onshore UAE courts. Parties are only required to file documents on which they wish to rely and are not required to disclose documents that may be adverse to their case.

If an expert is appointed by the court, the expert can request certain documents such as accounts and ledgers. The expert cannot, however, compel a party to comply with such a request, but failure to disclose a requested document may result in an adverse inference or finding.

DIFC Courts

In DIFC Court proceedings, a party is similarly only required to disclose documents on which it relies, provided the DIFC Courts are not misled. Parties may request disclosure of specific documents or categories of documents by way of a request to produce. There is an obligation to make full and frank disclosure in ex parte cases.

The request to produce must contain: (1) a description of the requested documents or category of documents; (2) a description of how the documents are relevant and material; and (3) a statement that the requested documents are not within the custody, control or possession of the party seeking them and are believed to be in the custody, control or possession of the other party.

A party may therefore be required to produce documents stored overseas or outside of the DIFC (i.e., onshore in the UAE), held by a third party or by a subsidiary or parent company, if such documents are considered to be within that party's 'control'.

A party may object to the disclosure of documents on the basis of the grounds listed in Rule 28.28 of the Rules of the DIFC Courts if, among other things:

  1. the requested documents are not relevant or material;
  2. the documents are privileged;
  3. it would be unreasonably burdensome to produce the documents or other consideration of procedural economy, fairness etc.;
  4. loss or destruction of the documents; or
  5. other sensitivities that the Court finds compelling. Each of these objections will be considered case by case.

The court can then issue a disclosure order for the production of all or some of the requested documents.

The Rules of the DIFC Courts make provision for electronic data searches and provide a list of factors that may be relevant in deciding the reasonableness of a search for electronic documents. This includes the accessibility of documents or data including servers, backup systems and other devices.

ADGM Courts

Proceedings before the ADGM Courts require disclosure of all documents to be relied upon during the hearing, referred to as 'standard disclosure'. The exceptions to standard disclosure are claims before the Small Claims Division, Rule 30 proceedings and judicial review, where the obligation does not apply.

A party may apply for further or specific disclosure by virtue of an application notice. The application notice must identify the documents sought and provide an explanation as to why they would assist in the determination of the proceedings. Disclosure of documents may be objected to if a party can justify its failure to disclosure. However, the ADGM Rules are not prescriptive as to the grounds upon which a party may rely on.

The court retains discretion to make orders for disclosure or inspection of documents if it considers it appropriate to do so. The duty to disclose is limited to documents that are or have been in the control of the party being requested to produce.

Parties are required to cooperate at an early stage in relation to electronic documents and, in circumstances in which the volume of documents is particularly large, parties are encouraged to exchange preliminary production requests to facilitate electronic data searches.

Alternatives to litigation

i Overview of alternatives to litigation

Arbitration is the most commonly used method of ADR and has increased in popularity following the UAE's accession to the New York Convention; the enactment and implementation of the Federal Arbitration Law for proceedings seated onshore (i.e., outside of the DIFC or ADGM); and a number of arbitration-friendly developments in the region, including the establishment of international arbitration centres.

ii Arbitration

The rules governing arbitration

The recent implementation of the Federal Arbitration Law,44 based on the UNCITRAL Model Law, provides a framework pursuant to which arbitrations seated 'onshore' in the UAE (i.e., outside the DIFC or ADGM) are conducted.

Major arbitral institutions

The major arbitral institutions in the UAE are the Dubai International Arbitration Centre (DIAC), Abu Dhabi Conciliation and Arbitration Centre (ADCAC), Sharjah International Commercial Arbitration Centre (Tahkeem) and Dubai International Financial Centre-London Court of International Arbitration (DIFC-LCIA). The rules of the DIFC-LCIA closely mirror the rules of the London Court of International Arbitration.

International arbitral institutions are also commonly used by parties in the region particularly in construction disputes. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) is the institution of preference in the majority of construction disputes. The ICC has recently opened a representative office in the ADGM to facilitate ICC-administered arbitration proceedings in the region.


The growth in the number of arbitration institutions has contributed to the popularity of arbitration in the region. The UAE's accession to the New York Convention; the enactment of the Federal Arbitration Law; and developments with the DIFC Courts have been positive contributing factors. The popularity of arbitration can be seen from the increase in disputes which are registered with the various arbitration institutions.

Total cases registered with DIAC amounted to 169 in 2017 and are in the range of 200 per year since then.45

The DIFC-LCIA confirmed that in 2018, 68 disputes were referred to the DIFC-LCIA Arbitration Centre comprising 64 arbitrations and four mediations. By contrast, the total number of cases reported by the DIFC-LCIA in 2017 was 58, comprising 51 arbitrations, six mediations and one application to the DFSA Financial Markets Tribunal.46

Diversity in the types of matters that are being submitted to arbitration, which includes maritime, telecommunication, finance and banking, media and general commercial, also demonstrates an increasingly established acceptance of arbitration across a variety of business sectors.

Certain disputes, however, are not capable of resolution by arbitration including family matters, criminal matters, matters of public policy and any other matters that must be referred to the UAE courts as provided for in the applicable law (e.g., agency disputes in the automotive sector).

Rights of appeal

The most significant reforms brought about by the Federal Arbitration Law address the enforceability of arbitration awards seated in the UAE (outside the DIFC or ADGM) and the approach of the UAE onshore courts with respect to the application of the UAE Federal Arbitration Law has been positive; reducing the period in which challenges to, and the enforcement of, arbitration awards are concluded.

A UAE arbitration award is binding upon the parties to the award enforceable as a judgment of the UAE courts.47 An arbitration award should be executed voluntarily by the parties. Failing voluntary execution of an award by the parties, forced execution of an award against a party requires an order of a UAE court of appeal.

The Federal Arbitration Law sets out an exhaustive list of grounds to challenge an arbitral award inspired by Article 34 of the UNCITRAL Model Law and consistent with international standards, supplemented by additional grounds that include, for example, lack of capacity to enter into or exercise rights pursuant to the arbitration agreement as determined under the law governing his or her capacity;48 or procedural irregularities affecting the ability of parties to present their cases;49 or the award.50

Article 54 of the Federal Arbitration Law provides a 30-day time limit for a party to challenge the validity of a final arbitration award before the relevant UAE Court of Appeal.

It is possible to appeal against an order of the Court of Appeal ratifying an award and declaring it enforceable. The appeal must be made within 30 days of the Court of Appeal's notification of the order.

Similarly, DIFC and ADGM seated arbitral awards cannot be appealed to the DIFC and ADGM Courts (respectively), but they can be set aside on the limited grounds which are set out in the DIFC Arbitration Law and the ADGM Arbitration Regulations 2015, which mirror the UNCITRAL Model Law. Any application to set aside an award before the DIFC Courts must be made within three months of the date the award was received by the party making the application.

Article 41(2)(a)(i) to (iv) of the DIFC Arbitration Law provides that the DIFC Court can set aside an award where the party seeking to set aside the award demonstrates that: (1) there was lack of capacity of parties to conclude the arbitration agreement or the arbitration agreement is not valid; (2) there was lack of notice of appointment of an arbitrator or of the arbitral proceedings or inability of a party to present his case; (3) the award deals with matters not contemplated by submission to arbitration; and (4) the composition of the arbitral tribunal or conduct of arbitral proceedings was not in accordance with the agreement of the parties.

These grounds for setting aside an award are mirrored in Article 51(1)(a) of the ADGM Arbitration Regulations.

Article 41(2)(b)(ii) of the DIFC Arbitration Law and Article 51(1)(b) of the ADGM Arbitration Regulations provides that the DIFC and ADGM Courts respectively can set aside the award where it finds that the subject matter of the dispute is not capable of settlement by arbitration under DIFC or ADGM Law (as applicable), or the award conflicts with the public policy of the UAE. The DIFC Court may also set aside the award where the dispute is expressly referred to the jurisdiction of another tribunal or body under the applicable law.

iii Enforcement of arbitration awards

Domestic awards

Enforcement proceedings commence directly before the UAE federal or local court of appeal, not before the courts of first instance (i.e., the previous position under the Civil Procedure Law). Under the Federal Arbitration Law, an application to a court of appeal seeking ratification and enforcement of a UAE arbitration award shall be determined within 60 days of the date of the application.51

Foreign awards

The UAE acceded to the New York Convention in 2006. The Convention provides a regime for the enforcement and recognition of arbitral awards within contracting states and sets out limited grounds on which another contracting state can rely to refuse recognition and enforcement of an arbitral award. These exceptions are similar to those listed at Article 41(2)(b) of the DIFC Arbitration Law addressed previously in the present section.

Despite the UAE's accession to the New York Convention, in the past there have been occasional challenges with enforcing foreign arbitral awards under the provisions of the New York Convention. For example, in 2013 the Dubai Court of Cassation (erroneously in our view) refused to recognise and enforce an ICC foreign arbitral award on the basis that the award debtor did not have any assets, and was not domiciled in the UAE.52

In a number of subsequent cases, the Dubai Court of Cassation held that the Civil Procedure Law has no application to foreign arbitral awards and has ratified and enforced foreign awards on the basis of the New York Convention.

It is also anticipated that the Civil Procedure Law, as amended by the Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law, will strengthen and formalise the enforcement of foreign awards within the UAE in accordance with international norms.

Recent developments and trends

The coming into force, and application by the onshore Courts, of the Federal Arbitration Law and subsequent reforms to the arbitration landscape, including the additional certainty provided by the decisions of the Judicial Tribunal concerning the limitations to the conduit jurisdiction of the DIFC Courts with respect to the enforcement of domestic (i.e., non-DIFC or ADGM) and foreign awards, modernises the regulatory framework underpinning UAE arbitration to bring it in line with international commercial arbitration norms globally.

iv Mediation

While mediation is not recognised as a formal process as it is in other jurisdictions, the UAE court system is facilitating mediation through a range of committees that are available to parties prior to formally litigating a matter.

The Dubai courts, for example, have established a Centre for the Amicable Settlement of Disputes. The Centre considers certain disputes, including disputes relating to commonly owned property or where a debt does not exceed 50,000 dirhams. If a settlement is reached, a settlement agreement is entered into by the parties that is a legally enforceable agreement and attested by a judge.

Alternative dispute resolution is also provided for in the DIFC Court Rules. A judge can invite parties to consider resolution at any stage in proceedings, where appropriate. Where disputes fall under the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Tribunal of the DIFC Courts, the parties will be invited to attend a consultation at the court for the purposes of attempting settlement.

The lack of recognition of the 'without prejudice' principle, however, often tempers the willingness of parties to mediate disputes prior to commencing formal litigation.

v Other forms of alternative dispute resolution

Cost pressures and the need for greater efficiencies in the resolution of disputes have led to the innovation of other ADR processes in the UAE.

The Chambers of Commerce of each of the emirates offers an arbitration and conciliation service to its members. For example, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry offers a mediation service for the amicable resolution of disputes provided that at least one of the disputing parties is a member of Dubai Chamber. The Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry also has the ability to conduct such mediations in English. There is, however, no specific mechanism to enforce these decisions.

The UAE Insurance Authority recently established a body known as the Insurance Disputes Settlement and Resolution Committee to attempt to resolve insurance disputes between insurers and their insureds, whatever their value, as a mandatory pre-litigation step. Given the infancy of this development, it is unclear at present what dispute resolution procedures these Committees will administer to resolve insurance disputes, although it is expected that a conciliation service will be offered.

Outlook and conclusions

Civil procedure in the onshore UAE Courts has been supplemented, and in certain key respects has been revised by the Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law, signalling continued enhancement of the onshore legal process in order to provide a streamlined, modern procedural framework to facilitate the efficient resolution of disputes before the Courts. Although recently enacted, it is anticipated that these amendments will provide an increasingly attractive litigation process relevant to all businesses with a presence, or commercial interests in, the UAE.

The UAE continues to take steps in the right direction with a number of reforms to the ADR arena, particularly in onshore (i.e., non-DIFC and non-ADGM) seats. The Federal Arbitration Law enacted in 2018 is the most significant reform to the UAE's dispute resolution landscape in over a decade. It is based on the UNCITRAL Model Law and provides a modern framework to support arbitration subject to the supervision of the UAE Courts (i.e., outside the DIFC and ADGM) and provides strict time limits and limited grounds on which parties are able to seek to frustrate arbitration proceedings by filing, for example, challenges to the appointment of the Tribunal;53 challenges to the jurisdiction of the Tribunal;54 challenges to the enforcement of interim awards;55 and challenges to the enforcement of any final award.56

As with all new legislation, consistency in the interpretative approach taken when applying the Federal Arbitration Law will be fundamental to achieving its intended purpose, particularly in the absence of the doctrine of stare decisis in the UAE law. Recent experience suggests a marked shift towards the efficient dismissal of spurious challenges and a tendency by the UAE Courts to promptly enforce arbitration awards. It is expected that the reform introduced by the Federal Arbitration Law and the consistent implementation of its provisions promoted by channelling arbitration related matters through the Court of Appeal will result in increased confidence in the UAE's legal system and thus strengthen the UAE's position as a hub for international arbitration in the Middle East.


1 Nassif BouMalhab and John Lewis are partners at Clyde & Co LLP. Salma Hajhusein, a professional support lawyer in Clyde & Co LLP's dispute resolution group, has contributed to the updates made to this chapter for 2019.

2 Constitution of the United Arab Emirates, 2 December 1971 (as amended) (the UAE Constitution).

3 Article 7 of the UAE Constitution.

4 Federal Law 5 of 1985 on the Civil Transactions Law of the United Arab Emirates (as amended by Federal Law 1 of 1987) (Civil Transactions Law).

5 Federal Law 18 of 1993 concerning Commercial Transactions (Commercial Transactions Law).

6 Federal Law 2 of 2015 on Commercial Companies (the Companies Law).

7 Federal Law 8 of 1980 regulating Labour Relations (as amended) (the Labour Law).

8 Federal Law 11 of 1992 concerning Civil Procedures Law as amended by Federal Law 30 of 2005, Federal Law 10 of 2014, and Federal Decree Law No 10 of 2017, and Federal Decree Law 18 of 2018) (the Civil Procedure Law) together with Federal Cabinet Resolution 57 of 2018 concerning the Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law (the Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law).

9 Federal Law No. 6 of 2018 on Arbitration (the Federal Arbitration Law).

10 Article 1 of the Civil Transactions Law.

11 Federal Law 3 of 1987 promulgating the Penal Code (as amended) (the Penal Code).

12 Dubai Law No. 12 of 2004: The Law of the Judicial Authority at Dubai International Financial Centre (as amended).

13 See DIFC Courts Order No. 5 of 2019 in respect of the DIFC Courts Small Claims Leasing Tribunal.

14 Convention on the Recognition and. Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. (New York, 1958).

15 Articles 203–218 of the UAE Civil Procedure Law.

16 Decree No. (19) of 2016 establishing the Dubai-DIFC Judicial Tribunal.

17 For details of decisions of the Judicial Tribunal, see:

18 See Article 6 of the Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law.

19 See Article 23 of the Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law.

20 See Articles 62 to 68 of the Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law.

21 See Articles 85 to 88 of the Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law.

22 See Article 23(2) of the Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law.

23 See Articles 329 to 330 of the Civil Procedure Law as supplemented by Articles 188 to 189 of the Executive Regulations of the Civil Procedure Law.

24 See, inter alia, Rule 20.72.

25 See, inter alia, Rule 63.

27 Rule 219 of the ADGM Courts, Civil Evidence, Judgments, Enforcement and Judicial Appointments Regulations 2015.

28 The Convention on Judicial Assistance, Recognition and Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial matters signed between France and the UAE (1992).

29 Convention on Judicial Assistance in Civil and Commercial Matters between the United Arab Emirates and the Republic of China (2004).

30 The Agreement on Juridical Cooperation in Civil and Commercial Matters with India (2000).

31 Treaty between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United Arab Emirates on Judicial Assistance in Civil and Commercial Matters (2006).

32 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Convention for the Execution of Judgments, Delegations and Judicial Notifications (1996).

33 The Riyadh Arab Agreement for Judicial Cooperation (1983).

34 Memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Abu Dhabi Judicial Department and Abu Dhabi Global Market Courts Concerning the Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments (February 2018) and MOU between Abu Dhabi Judicial Department and Abu Dhabi Global Market Courts Concerning Cooperation in Legal and Judicial Matters (April 2016); MOU between Ras Al Khaimah Courts and Abu Dhabi Global Market Courts Concerning Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments (May 2019) and MOU Between Ras Al Khaimah Courts and ADGM Courts Concerning Cooperation in Legal and Judicial Matters (November 2017).

35 UAE Federal Law No. 23 of 1991 regarding the Regulation of the Legal Profession.

38 Pursuant to Rule 203 of the ADGM Court Procedure Rules (ADGM Rules, Article 10).

39 Federal Law No. 7 of 2014 concerning Combating Terrorism Crimes and Federal Law No. 20 of 2018 on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism and Financing of Illegal Organisations.

40 UAE Cybercrime Law No. 5 of 2012.

41 Being Data Protection Law DIFC Law No. 1 of 2007. In June 2019, the DIFC issued Consultation Paper No. 6 on a Proposed New Data Protection Law, seeking public comments on a proposal by it to issue a new Data Protection Law:

42 Article 42 of the Federal Advocacy Law No. 23 of 1991 and the Federal Code of Ethics issued by virtue of a decree of the Minister of Justice No. 666 of 2015.

43 Article 18 of the Law of Evidence limits disclosure to material documents such as joint documents between the parties or documents relied on by the other party.

44 Federal Law No. 6 of 2018.

47 Article 52.

48 Article 53(c).

49 Article 53(d).

50 Article 53(g).

51 Article 55(2).

52 Dubai Court of Cassation, Cassation Number 156/2013, Construction Company International v. Ministry of Irrigation of the Government of Sudan.

53 Articles 14 and 15.

54 Articles 19 and 20.

55 Article 39.

56 Articles 53–55.

Get unlimited access to all The Law Reviews content