UAE courts have been granted new powers to enforce judgments imposed in civil and financial cases in England under a landmark ruling by the Ministry of Justice.
The resolution ― which was issued last week ― called for “relevant legal actions” to be taken to impose rulings made in English courts when requested.
The directive was issued by Judge Abdul Rahman Murad Al Bloushi, director of the international cooperation department at the Ministry of Justice.
“This means that judgments issued by courts in the United Kingdom against British expatriates in the UAE will be enforceable here,” said Hassan Elhais from Al Rowaad Advocates.
“The cases covered by this decision include civil and financial cases and asset division disputes between family members or spouses.”
Dr Elhais said the move was a “huge step” in bolstering cooperation between the UAE legal system and that of England, which also covers Welsh courts.
The other UK nations, Scotland and Northern Ireland, operate under their own legal jurisdiction.
The decision comes on the back on an English High Court order in 2020 to uphold a Dubai court judgment in a case about a bounced cheque involving a British citizen.
The ruling of the English court set a “legal precedent” for judgments made to be applicable in both countries, an expert said.
“The decision which confirmed the liability of Mr Puri — a British citizen — for the amount of the bounced cheque is cited in law reports as Lenkor Energy Trading DMCC v Puri,” said Byron James of Expatriate Law.
He said that after the Lenkor decision, the UAE’s Ministry of Justice issued a notice to all courts describing the case as one that “constitutes a legal precedent and a principle binding on all English courts according to their judicial system”.
“This has the potential to extend beyond just corporate and commercial debts,” he said.
He said the resolution will probably affect those with debts owed in one country who reside in the other.
“It will also likely have a huge impact on those who obtain English financial remedy orders on a divorce requiring a UAE resident to pay sums of money, whether it be for child maintenance, spousal maintenance, lump sum, property adjustment or otherwise.”
Ensuring justice is done
Alexandra Tribe, of London-based Expatriate Law, said the move could “open the floodgates” for creditors to take action against debtors seeking to avoid their obligations.
“For too long, errant husbands or wives unwilling to meet financial obligations on divorce as ordered by the English court, have found a safe haven in Dubai,” she said.
“This legal news is likely to open the floodgates for enforcement of previously unpaid orders, especially considering the significant British expat population in the UAE.”
English courts ruling must be final
Dr Elhais said that an English court's ruling must be final for it to be executed in the UAE.
Other requirements include that English judgments must not conflict with a ruling by any UAE court and should not be considered contrary to UAE public order or morals.
“This marks a huge step in upholding the principles of reciprocity, especially that a previous treaty signed between the two countries didn’t include enforcement of judgments issued by UK courts,” Dr Elhais said.
He cautioned, however, that the residence status of the person any order is made against could be crucial to determining whether an order is upheld.
“It could be a challenge if at the time of lodging the case in the UK, the person against who the case is being filed, was in the UAE based on a residence visa,” Dr Elhais said.
This is because it raises the question of whether legal proceedings should have begun in Dubai, rather than England.
“In simpler words, one of the requirements to enforce a foreign court’s order is that UAE courts do not have jurisdiction in the matter of the dispute.”