There has been a growing demand to enable the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts, a cluster of common law courts established in 2007, to operate in Arabic as well as English. As The National reported yesterday, legal experts have said licensed law firms could easily operate in Arabic but legislation is needed to sanction the change.
In a conference earlier this month, officials at the DIFC said the issue is being studied. Such a move would give access to established Arab legal practitioners, and also would have a considerable effect on the quality of legal proceedings throughout the country.
But to start, there are many questions to be answered before drafting legislation. Would all orders, transcripts and papers be available in both languages? And in case of discrepancies between the two texts, which one would take precedence? Discrepancy is a major issue in courts of law, which can be used in favour of one or another party. More questions might emerge as the courts implemented bilingual proceedings.
Training is key in such a transition. Legal practitioners who are versed in the dual system of Sharia and secular laws need to be trained in the common law, which is mainly of British origin, adopted by the DIFC. This multiplicity is already a challenge for lawyers in the regular courts.
Among Arabic-speaking lawyers, Sudanese lawyers and judges usually have experience with common law, which is the basis of Sudan's legal system; they could make the transition to the DIFC relatively easily, and their experience in the local courts could provide a link between the two.
Training and language are crucial if the DIFC's qualities are to percolate to other courts, which was one of the reasons behind its establishment.
The major difference between UAE law and UK common law is that the latter depends on precedent. In theory, this is also the case with the UAE judiciary where courts follow precedents set by local courts or the Supreme Court. In practice, this does not always work perfectly. This is essential. Most legal reforms begin at the high courts, where judges have more latitude and more time to deliberate.
Also, if the DIFC Courts accommodated Arabic, more Emirati lawyers and judges would become involved, in line with Emiratisation goals.
There are short-term logistical challenges to introducing Arabic, but it is an important step in the right direction.