x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

More women judges needed in UAE courts, panel says

Jurists tell of shift in momentum towards female judges.

DUBAI // The Government wants more woman judges in the country's courts, a panel of female jurists said yesterday.

Article 18 of the Federal Judicial Authority Law of 1983 states federal judges must be capable, Muslim, Emirati - and male.

But the number of female judges in the lower courts is growing.

"There has been a momentum towards the amendment of that law, but it only applies to the federal courts and not the local courts," said Ebtisam Al Bidwawi, Dubai's first female judge and a member of the panel at the Dubai Judicial Institute yesterday.

"Local courts … follow local laws set by the Ruler of each emirate."

Judge Al Bidwawi said the Government was pushing for more women to take up judicial positions.

Dubai has three appointed female judges and 17 female prosecutors, while Abu Dhabi has one appointed female judge, 10 female deputy judges, and several female prosecutors.

"We have had unlimited support from Sheikha Fatima [widow of the founding President, Sheikh Zayed] to take up these roles and the Government has been exceptional in facilitating access for women to join the judicial corps," said Judge Khulood Al Dhaheri from Al Ain Civil Courts.

Judge Tan Sri Siti Norma, the first Malaysian female chief judge, presides in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts and has a career that has spanned more than four decades.

She said debates about whether Sharia allowed female judges meant their acceptance remained a hot topic.

Judge Al Bidwawi said: "There are those who state that a woman cannot become a judge because she is emotionally driven or makes judgments based on her personal view, while the other school of thought is based on the fact that women have held leadership roles in Islam and have succeeded at that."

Judge Omar Al Muhairi, also from the DIFC Courts, said he took the second view, and that women had been appointed to resolve trade disputes as far back as the Second Caliphate of Umar Ibn Al Khattab in the 6th and 7th centuries.

Judge Al Bidwawi, who took the bench in 2008, said: "During my first court session I was appointed to the Dubai Criminal Court", which she said helped to win over those who had reservations about female judges.

"I could see the people in the courtroom chatting to each other and having confused looks on their faces," she said.

"But as time went on people started approaching my office, asking for advice and guidance."

Judge Al Dhaheri said: "Things like extensive knowledge of the law, level of experience and legal skills have to be present in a judge, whether you are male or female. If you possess these and other attributes, you can qualify and succeed."