x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Ruling allows expatriate lawyers in all Dubai courts

Judgment overturns an order by the Director General of Dubai Courts banning foreign lawyers from the emirate's highest court.

DUBAI // Non-Emirati lawyers may represent clients in all courts in Dubai, after a ruling yesterday by the Dubai Civil Court of Appeals.

The judgment invalidates an order by the Director General of Dubai Courts, Dr Ahmed bin Hazim, banning expatriate lawyers from the Court of Cassation, the emirate's highest court, and the Courts of Appeal from January 1, 2009, and all Dubai courts from April 1, 2012.

Hamdy al Shiwi, an Egyptian lawyer, filed a civil suit contesting the order in October 2009, on the ground that contradicted decrees and laws established to protect lawyers in the UAE.

The civil court ruled last April that the order was improper, and yesterday's judgment confirmed that ruling. The court also rejected appeals by the Dubai Government Legal Bureau and a group of Emirati lawyers.

Non-Emirati lawyers are still banned from practising in federal courts under a federal law from 1996 that took effect in 2008.

In his lawsuit, Mr al Shiwi said the administrative order effectively cancelled the Emirate of Dubai's Law Number 5 of 1996, which stated that Arab lawyers in Dubai could continue practising, and that such a decision could be made only by ministerial or royal decree.

He also argued that when the federal law on non-Emirati lawyers was announced in 1996 there was an 11-year grace period before its implementation in 2008. "How is it possible for an administrative order to be issued and provide such a short grace period between October 2008 and January 2009?" he said in his claim.

He said the change in law had had a dramatic impact on his practice. "The order's effect on business has been immense," he said. "If I take a case to the lower courts, I cannot continue to work on it when it gets to the higher courts.

"People stopped dealing with my firm after the order came out, and I am speaking about clients who have dealt with me for the past 18 years."

Prominent Emirati lawyers said the administrative order had been designed to boost the number of Emiratis in the legal profession.

"When the federal law implementation was postponed, this was due to the low number of Emirati lawyers in the UAE," said Salem Salem Al Sha'ali.

"This is something that is practised in all the Arab countries where only local lawyers are allowed to deliberate."

Another lawyer said: "In 2001 there were very few Emirati lawyers, but now the market is abundant with them."

He said there was a need for Emirati lawyers because the legal profession protected individual rights. "We need to have Emirati lawyers who know UAE law," he said.

He added that the administrative order protected Emirati lawyers by disallowing international firms. "If major international firms were allowed to enter they would affect the local law firms," he said.

"A lawyer's reputation depends on his track record and the size of his firm. When large international firms enter, clients would opt for them, not giving a chance to the local firms."