Access to Justice in the UAE during COVID- 19 Pandemic
Fatima Jamaluddin is a graduate of the Paris Sorbonne University law school, Abu Dhabi.
She is a lawyer with the Reed Al Dhaheri Lawyers and legal Consultancy. Reed Al Daheri is a renowned business woman with vast experience in commercial law in the UAE.
The UAE started taking precautionary measures as early as February 2020, and the implementation started from early March 2020. Abu Dhabi local courts, mid-March issued a circular in which it specified that court delegates are no longer allowed to come for follow ups at courts, and the circular did not mention that this shall be ‘until further notice’. This means that these court delegates (mainly Egyptian law graduates) will now most likely face termination for redundancy.
The court remains open only for lawyers (UAE accredited lawyers) or actual claimant/respondent to go in and attend the sessions. By banning court delegates from entering the court, we entered a new chapter in the judicial system.
UAE lawyers who rarely appeared before court and benefited from what we call “delegating a fellow lawyer” to fill in, are now obligated to attend the sessions themselves. It is noteworthy that the system of delegation of a fellow lawyer depended on ‘court delegates’ who were supposed to go to court, and find a lawyer to attend a session on behalf of the actual lawyer assigned for the case. Now that this system is over, and each lawyer has to attend the sessions himself/herself, there is no need for court delegates as mentioned earlier.
The other measure aimed at limiting the actual presence at court is regarding the case preparation phase which are now done by sending an email or attending the session via WEBEX. One of the challenges of using WEBEX is its low quality and the fact that some lawyers don’t come to their offices and are just used to attending court in person. Therefore, an appearance via WEBEX cannot be achieved. Luckily, the court officers are trying to make life easier on law firms and accept the appearance via email, confirmation via phone and uploading the memos (if any) through the online portal.
Dubai courts use BOTIM for appearance and the same challenges are faced.
It is noteworthy that both Abu Dhabi and Dubai courts announced a one month adjournment of all the hearings till mid-last April. Cases that are filed by today, are being granted sessions late April.
On the other hand, and during these adjournments, judgments are to be issued and to be uploaded online as usual. Claims for interim measures and family alimony and other urgent matters are to be filed and judged normally.
As for the Execution court (Enforcement), the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi granted two months grace for eviction cases and asset attachment. All of which are to be resumed after this period.
Most law firms here are already considering downsizing specially when it comes to court delegates. The option of remote working is being slowly implemented by most law firms in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.