ABU DHABI // In a major step towards improving transparency in the legal system, the Ministry of Justice yesterday announced that every federal law passed since the UAE's founding in 1971 has been translated into English and will soon be available online.
The ministry has also begun translating 1,500 federal court decisions, 500 international treaties signed by the UAE and 2,000 official fatwas issued by UAE muftis, to create a centralised, easily accessible body of case law and statutes in both Arabic and English. The Government says the translations will give legal practitioners, businesses and scholars unprecedented access to the country's lawbooks. The aim is to improve understanding of the UAE's laws and legal system internationally, as well as foster the transparency sought by international companies and investors.
"There are more people that speak English than Arabic in the UAE and our goal is to make the laws available to them," said Abdulla al Majid, the Minister's Adviser and the director of the translation project. All the documents will be posted online at www.elaws.gov.ae. The website will initially be free for public access for three months, but the ministry is contemplating eventually charging users a subscription fee.
"We are looking for feedback at this stage from the public to wage which direction we will go. We are considering creating different levels of memberships, such as academics and corporations," Mr al Majid said. More than 80 people working in the US, Lebanon and the UAE, including various ministries and courts, have worked on the project for two years so far. "This is a three-step programme. First we had to gather all the relevant laws, then put them on the website in Arabic and then translate them in an ongoing programme," Mr al Majid said.
The programme also aims to centralise the federal laws, treaties and fatwas and decisions taken by the Federal Supreme Court. "Our goal was to get every single law created and amended since 1973," Mr al Majid said. Although the country was founded in 1971 with the passage of the Constitution, the first federal laws were not passed for another two years. "This is clearly a wealth of information that for the first time is available to the public directly from the Ministry of Justice and not from a law firm," Mr al Majid said.
"The best feature about this is the search engine which allows you to find even one word amid a sea of legal documents. That changes the face of research for academics, lawyers, judges, businesses and the public. You can imagine the kind of impact this will have on the overall justice system." The English translations are just the beginning, Mr al Majid said. "We are also considering translating them into other languages, and translating specific laws within each emirate. At this point our focus is on English. This opens new doors for us and boosts our credibility further."
He said the UAE's diverse population meant that English had become the language of business. The project "will encourage people to learn more about our values and law even from their own countries before they come here," Mr al Majid added. Several sources have already translated many UAE laws. The most prominent effort has been undertaken by a company called Affinitext, which has translated more than 3,000 laws and made them available in Arabic and English on the internet for specialised users.
The project was initially an undertaking for DLA Piper, one of the largest law firms. "There are over 3,000 laws with no central repository," said Graham Thomson, founder of Affinitext. "Each law resides with a different area: free zones, ministries and so on. To collate just the Arabic is a major logistic challenge. Then translating it, then putting it on the best available programme on the internet," He said.
However, the translations by Affinitext are available online for a license fee for companies and law firms, and are not meant for private use. @Email:email@example.com