As a judge in Cairo, Moustafa Gamal Aldeen thought he had seen it all. Then he came to Abu Dhabi. "Here you are dealing with people from so many nationalities, and that changes the dynamics," he says. "There is a large immigrant labour force that is here that's not in Egypt. The nature of financial crimes are also very different here than in Egypt. So many of our laws are the same, but the cases are different."
After 30 years in the Egyptian judiciary, he was asked to come here 10 years ago in an exchange programme with the UAE courts. "I gladly took that opportunity not really knowing what to expect," he said in an interview during the final days of his work in Abu Dhabi as a judge in the Federal Supreme Court. "Things were very different 10 years ago. I have seen so much change, not just in the courts, but the country as a whole. It has gone through so much progress in the past 10 years, but there is a price for progress that not many people see."
With the economic and cultural booms came cases of human trafficking and money laundering. "There were many crimes that we weren't sure how to handle because they came in with the wave of development. But as judges, we don't create laws, we only interpret them, so our hands were somewhat tied. Once the UAE developed stricter laws to combat human trafficking, money laundering and other financial crimes, we started seeing more of these cases."
Justice Aldeen has also seen the courts change with technological advances. "Ten years ago, when we wanted to see previous judgments of similar cases, we had to sift through thousands of files and it would take a long time. Today, it takes me minutes on my computer. This has clearly affected our productivity and the amount of cases we see." He says he has had the freedom to do his job. "In all of my 10 years here, I did not receive even one phone call where someone tried to persuade my decision one way or the other. No one has ever questioned me for judging a specific case. The independence of judges here is exemplary."
The relationship between Egypt and the UAE is reflected throughout the court system. Most of the judges on the Federal Supreme Court are Egyptian nationals. Many Emirati lawyers and judges trained at Egyptian law schools. Dr Abdul Wahab Abdul, president of the Federal Supreme Court, for example, did much of his studies at Alexandria Faculty of Law in Egypt. Justice Aldeen, 61, once again will be a high-ranking judge in Egypt, taking with him the wealth of knowledge he has learned here.
"The past few years I have specialised in financial crimes and business cases, which will give me a great foundation for when I go back to Egypt. "I have mixed feelings, as you can imagine, about going back. A lot changes in 10 years. I have made very close friends here at the court, who I will be very sad to leave. I am very proud to have my thumbprint on the justice system here. At the same time, I am excited to go back to Egypt."
At a recent farewell gathering, Dr Abdul, the Supreme Court president, said of Justice Aldeen: "He is an exemplary person to many of his peers. "In the past 10 years he has become one of the pillars of this court and a reason for its success. We truly are sad to see him go." firstname.lastname@example.org
The UAE judicial system is heavily influenced by Egyptian, French, Roman and Islamic law. Unlike some systems in the West, UAE courts do not consider case law or precedent; each case is tried on its own merit. The justice system in the UAE differs from emirate to emirate. Every emirate has a Court of First Instance, which provides first level of adjudication for all cases. A Court of Appeal then reviews and can rule on decisions which have been contested, but can also decide if a case has merit to be heard by a supreme court. Within each court there are three divisions: civil, criminal and Islamic Sharia law. The latter court tries disputes between Muslims based on Islamic laws as derived from various sources, including the Quran and the hadith. Non-Muslims are not tried by the Sharia courts. Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras al Khaimah each has its own supreme court, known as the Court of Cassation. The other four emirates yield to the Federal Supreme Court, which is made up of five judges and is based in Abu Dhabi. The Federal Supreme Court also handles disputes between emirates and cases in which the UAE Constitution is called into question. An alternative system of dispute resolution, which is run by the courts but is outside of the procedure of law, is becoming a more popular form of settling civil disputes. All parties in such a dispute must agree to accept a ruling before it is issued.