x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Judges debate divergent rulings

Judicial conference hears that conflicting interpretations should be avoided, but others say more than one court enriches the system.

ABU DHABI // Four different high courts interpreting the same laws can lead to confusion and even injustice, senior judicial officials said at a conference over the weekend.

The officials, from the Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras al Khaimah Courts of Cassation, and the Federal Supreme Court, said lawyers and litigants often complained that similar cases were judged differently in different emirates because each had its own interpretation of the law.

Addressing such confusion would help build trust in the legal system, they said. "We should aim to avoid conflicting interpretations of the law that often occur when different [emirate-level] and federal high courts set legal precedents," said Allal Abdulsalam al Aboodi, the Chief Justice of the Abu Dhabi Court of Cassation.

"The legal system should evolve in line with the recent social and economic achievements in the UAE. A true and sustainable development cannot be achieved without an efficient legal system that protects rights and liberties."

In Abu Dhabi, Dubai and RAK, the Courts of Cassation are the highest legal authorities, under which the Courts of First Instance and Courts of Appeal operate.

In all the other emirates, cases appealed beyond the Court of Appeal are heard by the Federal Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court also hears any cases involving federal or constitutional issues.

One of the justices suggested having one high court to avoid conflicting interpretations of the law. But other judges said having more than one high court enriched the legal system.

"The role [of the high courts] is not only to issue verdicts but to interpret what is vague in the legal system, and set legal precedents that would enrich the legal thought," said Ali Ibrahim al Imam, the Chief Justice of Dubai Court of Cassation.

Not all rulings issued by the Supreme Court are binding for emirates with a high court, although they can be used by lawyers to buttress their argument and a judge can accept them.

Supreme Court rulings on the constitutionality of a verdict, however, are binding.

The conference also addressed a major legal precedent that came up in a recent decision: whether an institution can be sued for damages by an employee without the employee's liability also being considered.

The Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit by a military officer who sued the Armed Forces over lasting injuries caused by a training course, ruling that the lower courts improperly ignored his own role in the injury. The case went to the Supreme Court because the Armed Forces are a federal entity.

A lower court ordered the Armed Forces to pay the officer 25 per cent of the value of full disability and Dh2 million in damages. On appeal, the Supreme Court rejected his case because only the Armed Forces' culpability was considered at the appeals court. Supreme Court officials insisted that the employee's inclusion was essential.

The justice officials also discussed the merits of courts being able to refer matters outside their jurisdiction to the right court - for example to the Supreme Court, or perhaps to a court in another emirate - rather than simply rejecting the case.

There were no specific agreements to come out of the conference, but officials agreed there needed to be better communication among the emirates' courts to avoid future confusion. The judicial conference was the fourth annual meeting organised by the courts to discuss such legal issues.