x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Ministry of Justice 'can reject verdict of any court'

Federal Supreme Court confirms Attorney General's power, which it called necessary to avoid miscarriages of justice.

ABU DHABI // The Federal Supreme Court has confirmed the power of the Attorney General to reject any court verdict he deems improper, and send the case back to be retried. The landmark ruling effectively confirms the oversight power of the Ministry of Justice, which senior judicial officials said yesterday was necessary to avoid injustices.

"The Attorney General, of his own accord or by a written request from the Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs, can overturn a final court decision, whatever the court that issued it, if the verdict is based on a mistake in implementing or interpreting the law," Justice Amin Ahmed al Hajeri of the Federal Supreme Court wrote in the ruling.

While the Attorney General and the justice ministry cannot issue verdicts of their own, they can effectively prevent cases from going forward or can insist they be retried.

Intervention is restricted to cases in which litigants are not allowed to appeal a verdict, either because court deadlines have passed or in final decisions such as those of the Federal Supreme Court. The ruling allows defendants to appeal directly to the Ministry of Justice.

The Supreme Court ruling, issued in June and released to The National this week, referred to the verdict in a case in which an Al Ain businessman sued two partners whom he said owed him money. The Court of First Instance ruled that both partners were liable, but an appeals court said only one had to pay. The partner who was ordered to pay appealed to the Federal Supreme Court, which refused to hear his case. He then appealed to the Ministry of Justice for a retrial. The ministry agreed, and wrote to the Supreme Court seeking a new trial arguing the verdict of the appeals court had been erroneous. The Supreme Court granted the retrial.

The ministry's ability to intervene was a subject of debate at the most recent session of the Federal National Council when FNC member Mohammed al Zaabi, from Sharjah, accused the Minister of Justice of arbitrarily interfering "directly and indirectly" in court cases. Mr Zaabi said such involvement was unconstitutional.

"I call on the President of the UAE and the Prime Minister, and with a sense of urgency, to enforce a separation of power between the judiciary and the Minister of Justice," he said. "The minister should not be the judge, jury and executioner."

However, officials say the ministry's power to overturn verdicts is vital as the UAE legal system becomes increasingly more sophisticated and cases are often more complex and far-reaching than in the past. The requirement for the ministry to request such action from the Attorney General places distance between the Government and the courts.

A recent case of ministry intervention began with criminal charges against a Filipina, to which she pleaded guilty. After the verdict, her lawyer told the judge that she had confessed only because the Attorney General had promised to release her if she did so. The judge referred both the woman and her lawyer to the Public Prosecution on suspicion of making false accusations against an official. The two appeared on those charges before the same judge who had tried the original case. The ministry asked him to step aside because he is not allowed by law to preside over a case involving defendants he had tried before. The ministry also withdrew the charges against the lawyer, arguing that he was free to present any defence he chose.

"We only stood by the law," said Justice Humaid al Muheiri, director of the Judicial Inspection Department, which oversees and investigates court cases. Justice al Muheiri said his department examined an average of 400 cases a year on the grounds of procedural errors or misbehaviour of the judges involved.

"A judge's verdict cannot be cancelled except by a higher judge. Our role is only to oversee the court system," he said. "We overturn a verdict for the interest of the law, not for the interest of the litigants."

He said the department sends what he described as "defects" in cases to judges, showing them the errors in a decision and asking them to reconsider their verdicts. "If the judge insists on his decision, we can take the case to the Federal Supreme Court, which will decide between us," he said.