The UAE is a Civil Law Jurisdiction that is influenced by French, Roman and Islamic Laws (Sharia). As the country is growing and facing constant changes, regulations are developed to adapt accordingly. Common law principles are applied to commercial contracts due to the increasing presence of international law firms which has also resulted in arbitration increasingly becoming the method for dispute resolution.
Each emirate has its own independent laws that are passed by its ruler and apply only to that emirate. Furthermore, each of the emirates has been given the option to join the Federal Judicial system. Currently, it applies to all emirates except Dubai and Ras al-Khaimah.
The Federal Judicial system comprises of the Federal UAE Courts which are organized into three branches: Civil, Criminal and Sharia – the moral code and religious law of Islam. The stages of litigation start from the Court of First Instance followed by the Court of Appeal and finally the Court of Cassation or Federal Supreme Court.
Only local firms may appear before a court and lawyers have to be licensed by the Ministry of Justice and by Emiri Decree for the other emirates. In addition they must hold a degree from a recognized Shariah law college.
Arab expatriate lawyers have been licensed to practice in the UAE however there is a tendency to restrict these to qualified UAE nationals. Foreign law firms may offer advice as legal consultants, however are not allowed to plead cases in courts.