DUBAI // The UAE's justice system has been ranked first in the Middle East and North Africa and 13th in the world by an annual study.
The World Justice Project's Rule of Law Index 2011, which covers 66 countries, put the UAE seven places above the US, which ranked 20th.
"The high score is a vote of confidence from a respected international agency in the federal and local judicial system," said the Minister of Justice, Dr Hadef Al Dhaheri.
The index is compiled by the non-profit group World Justice Project (WJP) and is designed to provide governments, businesses, non-governmental organisations and civil society with a tool for reform.
Its rankings were based on the analysis of legal experts in each country, who were sent questions on a series of scenarios.
Countries are judged on eight factors: fundamental rights, limits on government powers in the legal system, the absence of corruption, order and security, open government, regulatory enforcement, access to civil justice and effective criminal justice.
In all of these areas the UAE scored more highly than the other four Middle Eastern and North African countries studied - Iran, Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco.
The UAE was also ranked sixth globally in guaranteeing order and security to its citizens, while public institutions in the country were found to be free of corruption, ranking 13th out of 66 countries.
The report said government officers were held accountable for misconduct, and the civil court system was efficient and relatively independent, though it remained inaccessible for many people.
However, in fundamental rights, the UAE came second in the region, behind Lebanon. The report also highlighted that in spite of the UAE legal system's strengths, "the formal system of checks and balances remains weak, and fundamental rights are curtailed, ranking 51st, including labour rights, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, freedom from arbitrary interference with privacy, and freedom of opinion and expression".
Ebrahim El Saddig, a partner at the international law firm SNR Denton & Co, who is based in Dubai, wrote the part of the report concerning the UAE.
"The WJP report shows the nexus between good governance, the rule of law and the ability to attract investments," Mr El Saddig said.
"I have been a member of the WJP for two years and a practitioner in the UAE for 14," he said. "The UAE's legal system has been developing rapidly and will continue to develop at this rate that they are going."
The report viewed Iran's law enforcement as relatively strong but described it as an instrument to perpetrate abuses. Its government accountability was ranked 59th globally and last within the region, while corruption was prevalent.
Courts, although fairly efficient, were subject to corruption and political interference, the report said. In fundamental rights, the country ranked last among those studied.
The report stated that Lebanon stood out due to its efforts to guarantee civil rights and freedoms, ranking first in the region and 26th globally. However, the WJP viewed the administration of justice as lacking because of corruption and political interference within the civil courts, delays, discrimination against marginalised groups, and the absence of guarantees of due process of law in criminal cases.
Morocco was viewed as under-performing in comparison to the region.
Morocco performed well in the area of order and security, but lagged behind in all other categories, the report said.
The Moroccan criminal justice system displayed flaws in due process and the country ranked 49th globally for freedom of opinion and expression, openness, and respect for fundamental rights.