What are the Sources of U.A.E. Laws?

Lawgical with LYLAW & Tim Elliot

03 December 2019

Tim Elliot:  Welcome to another edition of Lawgical.  I’m Tim Elliot, here once again in the Jumeirah Lakes Towers District with Ludmila Yamalova.  Ludmila is the Managing Partner of the legal firm, Yamalova & Plewka here in Dubai.  It’s good to see you.

Ludmila Yamalova:  Good to see you as well.  Thanks for being back with us.

Tim Elliot:  In a recent podcast, we were looking at the different courts, the different options available legally I guess here in the United Arab Emirates.  This time we’re going to be looking at the different sources of law here in the U.A.E.  It’s an interesting question, this one.  The U.A.E. is a young country.  It’s growing.  Its populated with people from all over the world, 200 nationalities that we have in the country, people from different jurisdictions and different legal systems.  Understanding the U.A.E. system is one thing.  Understanding where the law comes from is another, Ludmila.

We hear of legal developments, new laws, whether they’re signed into law or not, so quickly these days, social media, it will pop up on your phone, the newspapers, TV, radio, the internet.  Let’s say you read an announcement in the local newspapers that refers to a new law being established.  Can I rely on that as a source of law?

Ludmila Yamalova:  In short, no.  The example you gave was an interesting one because in that particular example there is a reference to a new law being published in the official Gazette, but often there are news articles and headlines that are circulated where an amendment to a law or certain introduction of a new law is being discussed, but there is no mention of that law being published in the official Gazette, so we are even more steps removed from that announcement ever making into life.  For example, there is an announcement that a particular, let’s say a jointly owned property law has recently been enacted, and it’s been published in the official Gazette, and it will become effective as of such and such a date.  That is one kind of headline that perhaps imminently will result in tangible legislation, but very often that are discussion happening at the government level and at various ministry levels where statements are being made of an amendment or an introduction of a particular legislation or regulations and often people rely on those statements and these are just newspaper or social media headlines.  They rely on them as being law, but in many of those cases, those statements, those announcements never even make it past what you see in the social media at that point in time.  Yet, people believe.  Well, there is a new law, for example, about a visa or about an investor protection law as one example.  For many years there was a discussion about perhaps an investment protection law and there have been enough articles discussing this potential investment protection law that many people actually believed there is an investment protection law, but it still has not made it into practice.  There is a big difference between the announcement or statements you read in the press.  It’s very important to read the fine print and to understand the content and not just rely on the headlines because very often we hear people, the Chinese whispers effect is just somebody reads an article and they say, look, there is this new law, and that article gets passed around and before you know it a good number of people believe that there is a new law in place, and then they come to lawyers, for example, and then they start arguing with lawyers that yes, there is a new law about a particular subject matter.  Then you go through the educational process.  Until it has actually made it into the official Gazette, there is no such thing as new law.

Tim Elliot:  I make a case to never argue with you, Ludmila, as you’ve probably noticed.  Where do I go then to find out if a law has become official?  Where do I need to read?

Ludmila Yamalova:  There are several places but, in short, the main source of law is what’s called the official Gazette.  Until law has been published in the official Gazette, there is no law, if you will.  It’s very important that if you rely on anything, particularly in court, that the particular source of law has actually made it into the official Gazette.  Now, the official Gazette in and of itself is not such a simple concept because in the U.A.E. we are a federal system.  We also have individual emirates.  We have different types of official Gazettes.  We have the federal official Gazette, and that is where all the federal laws are published.  Federal laws are laws that apply to all emirates, irrespective of the nature of a particular matter or irrespective of the place where it happened.  It applies equally to all the emirates.  That is the federal law.

Then, individual emirates also have certain authority to issue certain laws that are reserved for the individual emirates.  Therefore, you have official Gazettes for each emirate.  You have the federal official Gazette and then you have the official Gazette for Dubai, for Abu Dhabi, and for Ras Al Khaimah.  These are the three emirates that have chosen to be away from or out of the federal system.  Then you have Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Although Quwain, and Fujairah, and they are part of the federal official Gazette.  You have several official gazettes, but if you want to rely on a particular law for Dubai, you need to also find a Dubai official Gazette.  Now in terms of matters that individual emirates can legislate, for example, real estate matters are often reserved for individual emirates to legislate.  In Dubai, for example, we have what’s called the RDC, the Rent Dispute Committee.  The RDC was set up by Dubai law and it only is effective in Dubai.  Abu Dhabi, for example, does not have that, nor does Fujairah.  That particular center was established by the Dubai official Gazette.  It’s really important to first isolate what issue you are talking about and then which emirate because the source of law varies from the subject matter at stake and the site of a particular matter or the dispute.

Tim Elliot:  Where do I get a hold of an official Gazette?  Are there legal kiosks?  Is it published or printed regularly?  Is it online?  Is it available in English?

Ludmila Yamalova:  It is evolving.  In general, the official Gazette, because in the U.A.E. the official language is Arabic, so everything that is issued in terms of law is in the official language, Arabic.  Everything else is a translation.  Even though sometimes laws are available in English, but it is very clearly stated that all those laws are translations of Arabic.  Therefore, the default language and the official language, and whenever there is a conflict, it will always the Arabic language that will prevail.  Depending on the emirate and depending on the legislation, most official Gazettes are in Arabic.  However, in Abu Dhabi some of the federal legislation sometimes is available in English as well.  But in most cases the original publication is in Arabic.

In terms of where you can access it, it’s not so easy.  But that is evolving.  In the past the only way to get an official Gazette you had to sign up for the hard copy.  To sign up was quite a process.  There are no kiosks that sell official Gazettes.  You actually need to sign up with a particular authority and pay upfront and then have your official Gazettes delivered to your address whenever there is a new law that’s published.  That’s how it used to be done in the past.  It’s still, depending again on whether it’s federal or an individual emirate, the official Gazette is still sometimes done in hard copies and then you receive that hard copy if you’ve signed up.  But more and more places are now also starting to offer the online version or a digitally available official Gazette.  That is obviously an option that is a lot more convenient and that we expect as time goes on more laws will be available that way.  But until such date, it’s quite fragmented.  It’s not like we have one centralized database of U.A.E. legislation where you go to one place and all the federal laws and all the individual emirate’s laws are populated.  You ultimately need to go to different individual emirate court systems on the website and depending on the emirate some of these court systems are more updated than others.  If you want to go, for example, to the Dubai court system, on their website there are a number of laws that are available.  They are not quite yet exhaustive.  That’s as far as Dubai is concerned.  Other emirates may not have as many laws available online yet.  It truly is a matter of piecemealing for now.  If you want to, for example, find all there is to know about the U.A.E. legal systems, you really need to go to each one of these emirates and go year by year and make sure that you have all the official Gazettes for all of the emirates and all the federal laws, and that is quite an undertaking.

Tim Elliot:  There is no Dubai legal wiki page that you can use?  I guess the courts are not using a Facebook page or social media updates really?

Ludmila Yamalova:  Not so much, but once again, Dubai and the U.A.E. in general is embracing the notion smart government and e-government.  We are moving in the direction of making a lot more information publicly available in the digital format.  We are moving in the right direction, but for now there is no one centralized place where we can find it all, for example, if we just look at official Gazettes.

Now to complicate things even further is that in addition to the official Gazettes, and that is the official and the most formal source of law, there are other types of laws.  These are laws such as bylaws, resolutions, decrees, certain kinds of orders, and various practical regulations.  They can be issued by different government authorities.  For example, the Land Department may issue a particular decree or order, let’s say, about the new regulations about real estate broker regulations.  That’s not necessarily done by virtue of the official Gazette, but it’s a decree or an order that might have been issued by a particular authority.  For example, the Immigration authority often publishes orders and decrees or other amendments to the immigration laws.  What makes that even more complicated is sometimes these degrees, orders, regulations and bylaws are available to the public, and other times they’re not.  We would just know of them by virtue of an announcement, but this announcement will come from an authority.  For example, as of such and such a date the Immigration authority might announce that, let’s say visas for certain nationalities will now be extended from 30 days to 60 days.  Often these kinds of decisions are not necessarily memorialized in the official Gazette or often not memorialized in any kind of an order that you can place, but we know that the regulations have been amended by virtue of just actions.  That’s sort of what complicates the collection of sources of law even further.

Tim Elliot:  How do you distinguish then between a decree, and we read often that decrees have been put out, but what’s a decree and how is that different from an official law?

Ludmila Yamalova:  It depends because the official law is the ultimate and perhaps the most fundamental source of law.  Then decrees, it depends on the language of the decree.  Sometimes a decree may, for example, be an amendment or a clarification of a specific law.  Sometimes it’s an issue that is perhaps marginal.  It doesn’t quite need to make it into the formal law.  It really depends, but sometimes it could be something that’s very important to the nation and though it never made it into the official Gazette, in its importance and value it could be just as important as the official Gazette.  The difference ultimately as that, let’s say we’re talking from a legal perspective, we as lawyers we always need to have an official source to rely on.  If we do anything in court, we need to be able to point to an official document.  Depending on the form of the decree and the language of the decree, we may or may not be able to rely on it as a source of law.  But in general, they are in lesser in terms of value or importance than the laws that make it into the official Gazette.

Tim Elliot:  Let me ask you about legal amendments.  Laws change from time to time.  They’re updated.  Where can I find amendments to the law?

Ludmila Yamalova:  Amendments as well will be published in the official Gazette.  Because ultimately the original law was published in the official Gazette, therefore, for that particular law to be amended and to be amended correctly, the amendment needs to be published in the official Gazette.  Often when the amendments are published, it’s not necessarily the new law is published.  There will just be, for example, a list of amendments that will refer back to the original law.  You need to be able to read those two documents in conjunction, so you take the original law and then you take the amendments, for example that will state such and such article has been crossed out altogether, such and such article has been amended to read this and that.  Very often you need to be able to read both of those documents together.  One example in Dubai is the rental law.  Dubai has its own rental law.  There was a law that was issued originally in 2007 and there have been some amendments made to that law since then, but the amendments are in that form where just specific provisions or clauses might have been crossed out or amended, but there hasn’t been really one updated law that will combine the two sources of law, so you actually need to read them in conjunction.

There is one more source of law, if you will, in the U.A.E. which is fairly, perhaps unusual, and that is court precedents.  Why it is unusual is because the U.A.E. overall, as we talked about in the previous podcast, is a civil law jurisdiction.  A civil law jurisdiction by definition does not really rely much on court precedents.  Court precedents are not binding.  They might be helpful in ways, but they’re not binding, unlike the common law system.  However, the U.A.E. being the U.A.E. and always embracing new practices and initiatives and sort of absorbing some of the world’s best practices, what has happened in legal practice is that we have more or less adopted the practice of relying on court precedents.  Believe it or not, in most cases that are argued in courts previous court decisions are very often cited as law.  In most cases when such decisions are cited, the judges themselves will either recite them and will refer back to a particular decision by a previous court as perhaps now being law, or sometimes even if you don’t cite laws yourself, the judges will often cite a particular court precedent or a particular judgment from the past as a definitive point of a particular legal issue that has now been interpreted and settled by virtue of previous judges deciding this issue and perhaps citing in the same way.  What we’re seeing, even though it’s a civil law system, more and more it’s more of a hybrid.  We do quite often rely on in particular on the Court of Cassation because in the Court of Cassation these are the final judgments and up until the matter has made it into the Court of Cassation it can be appealed, and until it has been appealed, obviously, it’s not a settled issue.  But once it has been decided by the Court of Cassation, now it’s considered to be a settled issue.  Therefore, in most cases that we see in practice, irrespective of the emirate, courts do rely on the previous Court of Cassation as a source of law.

Tim Elliot:  The final question, Ludmila, are there any other sources of law?  We have so many different courts here in the emirates.  That much I’ve learned.  Is there anywhere else that might pop up?

Ludmila Yamalova:  Yes, indeed.  As we previously discussed, the U.A.E. has additional court systems in addition to the civil law systems or the local courts and that is the DIFC courts and the Abu Dhabi Global Market courts, or the ADGM courts, and those courts have their own laws.  The DIFC has its own body of laws which are called the DIFC laws, and the ADGM has its own body of laws which are ADGM laws.  Those are additional laws and those laws are available on the court’s respective websites.  Those laws are published in English because they are English-based courts, so yes, another source of law.  We have got the official Gazette for all the local courts and local laws, and then you have the DIFC and ADGM laws in addition.

Tim Elliot:  Sources of law here in the United Arab Emirates.  What is the law and what may become the law?  That’s another edition of Lawgical.  Here at the offices of Yamalova & Plewka, we talk about legal issues, legal news, and much more.  We podcast the results either in Lawgical Lite, a bite-sized quickie podcast or in our slightly more detailed full-length Lawgical podcasts every single week, for you, for free.  Ludmila Yamalova, as ever, lovely to talk to you.

Ludmila Yamalova:  Indeed, with you as well.

Tim Elliot:  If you have a legal question you need answered in a future podcast or if you’d like a consultation with a qualified U.A.E. experienced legal professional, all you have to do is click the Contact button at Lylawyers.com, or you can WhatsApp us as well, 00971 52 525 1611.