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A Guide Distinguishing the English Common Law and The UAE Civil Law Systems


Both the UK and United Arab Emirates (UAE) have two different judicial systems. The UK adopts the common law system. Whereas the UAE uses the civil law system. The UAE established its legal system based off civil laws which were taken from Islamic, French and Egyptian laws. This short article addresses the two types of judicial systems used in the two countries along with the differences between the two.

Common Law Systems

The common law system adopted by the UK is based on interpretations of rules which is elaborated as judicial interpretations of rules that exist. It is also based off judicial heritage. Common law was imposed upon people and never voluntarily adopted. It is based on the doctrine of ‘stare decisis’ which means the legal principle of determining points in litigation according to precedent. In basic terms, this means the courts must follow historical cases when making a ruling in a similar case. Common law is also uncodified meaning it has no comprehensive compilation of the legal rules and statutes.

Although common law is heavily based on precedent, it does still rely on some statutory principles which are based on legislative decisions. In the UK, the supreme court is the uppermost body and its decisions are binding on lower courts.

Civil Law Systems

The civil law system adopted by the UAE has roman heritage and is derived from French civil codes. Civil law is codified. The UAE has comprehensive and updated legal codes as all matters are capable of being brought through the courts. Civil law differs from common law in that it puts less emphasis on judicial interpretation and relies heavily on stator law rather than the court’s interpretation. The legal system in the UAE is based on five pillars. These are: The supreme council of rulers, the president and his deputy, the council of ministers, the federal national council and the Judiciary.

There are two kinds of civil courts:

Ordinary courts – basic private and criminal law matters are being resolved in this court.

Special administrative courts – these courts deal with the matters like public law and other matters.

Major Differences

The major difference between the UK and UAE is both follow different legal systems. It is therefore necessary to analyse the difference between the two systems. The major difference is:

The doctrine of good faith

The doctrine of good faith will apply to all courts in the UAE as there is a definition. This differs from the UK as there is no definition of good faith per se but it is assessed by the contractual circumstances.

Case law

The UK’s primarily importance is on cases and the reliance on precedents. Whereas, in the UAE, civil law considers the cases as a secondary resource of law.


The official language in the UK courts is English. As per the Court of Justice Act, the cases were recorded in Latin until the year of 1730. After this period, the English language was used. In the UAE on the other hand, the official language used in courts is Arabic whereas, the second language is English. In Abu Dhabi, Hindi is used as the third language as almost 30% of its population are Indians.

Role of Judge

There is an adversarial system used in common law in the UK in which there are two opposing parties where a judge is an impartial referee. The judge will determine the appropriate award or sentence with the help of a jury. This differs from the civil law system. In the UAE the judge is the most important player and the role is to establish the facts of the case and apply the provisions of the applicable code.

Monarch Solicitors specialist Arabic Legal Services provide a tailor-made approach to your needs and give professional, practical and cost-effective advice to your intended proceedings. Please contact us by either calling 0330 127 8888 or emailing [email protected] for an initial consultation.


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