ABU DHABI // A court dedicated to expatriates and non-Muslims will hear cases such as inheritance, divorce and custody in the laws of claimants’ own countries will make proceedings quicker and clearer, legal officials say.
Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, announced the court on Saturday.
In inheritance and personal status courts, Muslim and non-Muslim expatriates can choose to have their case heard under UAE law, or that of their own country or religion if the court approves. Emiratis can choose the laws of their sect.
That one court will now be dedicated to this means they will have less time waiting.
Those who choose the laws of other countries must provide the court with a sealed copy of the applicable law verified by their embassy.
Ahmed El Dwery, a legal adviser in Abu Dhabi, said the number of such cases filed by non-Muslims has increased since 2014. A quarter of the inheritance and personal status cases are filed by non-Muslims.
"Previously, there weren’t that many cases and we used to only see Arabs file cases in personal status court, but it started increasing and now cases are file by foreigners and people from all religions," Mr El Dwery said.
He has had inheritance cases from Hindu expats who requested their own laws and Christians who requested Sharia.
"Usually women request local regulations in personal status, because her rights are guaranteed a lot in Sharia law," Mr El Dwery said.
Men usually requested their own laws to be applied.
Mr El Dwery believed that the increase in cases was caused by more people becoming aware of their options.
"Some were unaware that an Abu Dhabi court could rule for you based on the laws of your country or religion, or they were reluctant to enter an Islamic court," he said.
Ibrahim Al Tamimi, a divorce lawyer in Abu Dhabi, said before the personal status law was issued in 2005, all non-Muslims used to file these cases in Dubai courts because it had a department for non-Muslims.
If the claimant does not specify their choice from the start of the trial or fails to provide a copy of the law from their embassy, UAE laws are applied.
Similarly, if he of she fails to take a sealed copy of the updated law from the concerned embassy they will have to abide by Emirati laws.
Therefore, non-Muslim clients will benefit from having their own court because these procedures will be clearer for them and direct.
"It also represents a sign of tolerance towards other faiths, when you establish a special court for them on your land," he added.