x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Ban on expat lawyers gets mixed response

Emirati lawyers hope that some Arab practitioners will be able to argue cases before Dubai's two highest courts, despite a ruling that will prevent non-Emiratis from doing so.

DUBAI // Senior Emirati lawyers hope that some Arab practitioners will be able to obtain permission to argue cases before Dubai's two highest courts despite a ruling that will prevent non-Emiratis from doing so. Although a decision issued by Dr Ahmad al Suwaidi, director general of the Dubai Courts Department, will bar non-Emirati lawyers from practising in the Dubai Appeal and Dubai Cassation courts starting from January 1, 2009, Sameer Ja'afar said that in special circumstances and case by case, Arab lawyers should be able to bypass the ruling. However Mr Ja'afar, managing partner at Ja'afar Alwan, Al Jaziri and Associates Advocates and Legal Consultants, also said the law is a natural step for any country. "This is not new, it has been applied in the law courts at the federal level. The decision only means that expatriate lawyers will now be restricted to pleading cases before the first instance courts," Mr Ja'afar said. "It is only natural for every country to want its own citizens to plead cases in its own law courts." Non-Emirati lawyers will still be allowed to plead cases before the courts of first instance, criminal and civil, until March 2012, when those too will be closed to expatriate lawyers. Dr Suwaidi said the decision was taken by the UAE Cabinet in April this year when the Ministry of Justice implemented it at the federal law courts in Abu Dhabi and in the other emirates. "We decided to give lawyers in Dubai a grace period before we applied the new law, but lawyers knew it would be implemented," he said. Tony Maalouli, the Lebanese managing partner at Pro Consult Advocates and Legal Consultants, said the decision will have only a minimal impact on expatriate lawyers practising in the country. He said almost all law offices licensed in the UAE have at least one Emirati lawyer on staff. "As non-Emirati legal consultants, we do all the work anyway, while the Emirati lawyer only pleads the case in court. It is rare to find an Emirati lawyer who does all the work on a case and argues the case in court," Mr Maalouli said. "Of course it would be better if the lawyer who works on a case is the one who pleads it before the court." Mr Maalouli said very few new licences being issued to non-Emirati lawyers. "Many practising expatriate lawyers who plead cases in court got their permit to appear before the local courts 15 or 20 years ago. Back then there were few local lawyers, so the authorities allowed Arab lawyers from Egypt, Syria and Lebanon to appear before the courts here." Saeed al Ghailani, a prominent Emirati lawyer, said the decision should have been taken a long time ago. "In every country in the world, the law profession is practised by citizens, as they know their country's laws best and understand their own societies. "This is not to say that we do not appreciate the contributions of non-Emirati lawyers. They can continue to work in this country as legal consultants, but only Emiratis must argue cases in court." The only courts not affected by the new ruling are the special law courts at Dubai International Financial Centre, where proceedings are in English and follow the Anglo-Saxon legal model rather than the Franco-Egyptian model followed in other courts. hbathish@thenational.ae