DUBAI // Common law courts operating inside Dubai International Financial Centre could easily operate in Arabic and English, officials say, but not before legislation is passed to allow it.
The independent courts, including a court of first instance and a court of appeal for civil and commercial disputes, were set up in 2007 to enact a 2004 law passed by the former Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid.
But according to Dubai Law No.12 of 2004, which defines the powers, procedures, functions and administration of the courts within the financial sector free zone, they must operate in English.
"We have the ability and capability to work in Arabic alongside English," said Mark Beer, a DIFC courts registrar. "The decision is not in our hands as legislation introducing Arabic as a court language has to be issued first."
Habib Al Mulla, a lawyer and the chairman of Habib Al Mulla and Company, said: "If the DIFC is serious about being a part of the judicial system in Dubai and the UAE, and serious about getting Emirati lawyers involved in the courts, the use of Arabic should be given serious consideration."
Last month the DIFC courts signed an agreement with the Judicial Training Institute at the Ministry of Justice to include common-law courses as part of Emirati lawyers' qualification.
But Dr Al Mulla said language "will remain an issue not only in appearing before the DIFC courts, but also for training purposes.
"The Judicial Institute has never carried out training in English. It doesn't have either the materials or the tutors to carry out training in English. In fact, the director of the institute has clearly mentioned that he prefers the training to be done in Arabic."
A British lawyer practising in Dubai agreed the introduction of Arabic in the DIFC courts was needed.
"This would make the DIFC unique in the whole Mena [Middle East North Africa] region because they would be a non-discriminatory court," said Claire Grainger, a senior partner at Prestige Advocates and Legal Consultants.
"If you have an Arabic-speaking party, they would be able to participate in the proceedings and this way you would have a forum where everyone can participate."
Another expert said changing the language of the court might create an opportunity to better align the DIFC courts with the federal system.
"Most lawyers in the UAE studied the French civil law system, which is completely different to the Anglo-Saxon common law practised in DIFC," said Dr Ali Al Jarman, the managing partner at Prestige Advocates and Legal Consultants.
While the federal court system was built on a mix of Islamic law and Egyptian civil law, the DIFC courts follow the UK common-law system.
The biggest difference between the two systems, Dr Al Jarman said, was that DIFC courts allowed defences based on legal precedents, while the courts in the rest of the UAE did not.
Introducing Arabic would probably increase the case loads at the courts, but Mr Beer said they were ready to handle more traffic.
"We have two Emirati, Arabic-speaking judges and our small- claims court finishes cases within three weeks on average," he said.