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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Bilingual courts are a sign of a progressive society

Latest in a series of legal reforms sends a clear message that the UAE capital is open to all

Abu Dhabi Judicial Department now requires all civil and commercial case plaintiffs to translate their documents into English if they are filing a case against a non-Arabic speaker. Andrew Henderson / The National
Abu Dhabi Judicial Department now requires all civil and commercial case plaintiffs to translate their documents into English if they are filing a case against a non-Arabic speaker. Andrew Henderson / The National

Recent years have witnessed a spate of reforms to the UAE’s legal system, a natural evolution that is symptomatic of a dynamic and maturing society. With as many as 200 nationalities living, working and investing in the country, it makes sense for its legislative channels to be accessible and intelligible to all. The move by Abu Dhabi’s judiciary making it compulsory for plaintiffs in civil and commercial courts to make case files available in English for non-Arabic speakers is the latest in a series of positive steps. It indicates to investors at home and abroad that the UAE capital is open to all, and that there will be proper recourse to the law in the limited number of cases when things go awry. It also sends a clear message that residents and investors will be protected by a transparent system.

Previously, defendants were obliged to pay for translations of case files, with some complaints running up to 1,000 pages long. With plaintiffs now carrying the cost, they are unlikely to want to become entangled in complicated and expensive bureaucracy by overburdening the court system with excessive paperwork. A modern legislative framework goes hand in hand with the ambitious economic and social reforms that underlie Ghadan 21, or Tomorrow 2021, a package of measures to make living and working in Abu Dhabi more seamless. It recognises that when one’s professional or personal life hits a roadblock, the path of due process should be smooth. Bilingual courts will reassure investors and residents alike that they have proper access to justice and clarity when dealing with legal institutions.

Making an entire legal system accessible to all is, of course, no easy task. However, a number of issues are progressively being addressed, from a new bankruptcy law introduced in 2016 to allow small and medium-sized businesses to restructure debt when they run into trouble, to a move introduced by Dubai Courts in December last year to issue fines instead of jail terms for bounced cheques. These measures are indicative of a modern, progressive society – one that encourages bold steps and big ideas, but also allows for proper recourse to the law should they not work out.