5 ways justice is being better served in Abu Dhabi courts

The recent introduction of Hindi as an official language in the legal system is just the latest effort to open up access to justice in the UAE capital

Abu Dhabi has recorded a 40 per cent drop in criminal activity between March 8 and April 13 when compared to the same period last year. Courtesy - Abu Dhabi Judicial Department
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The landscape of justice in Abu Dhabi is changing rapidly thanks to a series of key initiatives rolled out in recent years.

From the introduction of English and Hindi as official languages in the legal process to non-Muslim divorce cases being heard in churches rather than the courts, access to justice for all sections of the capital's multicultural society is high on the agenda.

Here are five significant steps forward that have made in the Abu Dhabi legal system.

1: Hindi becomes the legal system's third language

The Abu Dhabi Justice Department (ADJD) announced earlier this month that Hindi was to become the third official language of the capital's court system.

Joining Arabic and English as languages in use in cases, the move allows foreign nationals to lodge claims and raise grievances in Hindi, which is widely spoken in India and by a large number of expatriate workers in the UAE, in labour cases.

The Abu Dhabi Justice Department said the change would allow Hindi speakers to learn about litigation procedures and their rights and responsibilities without a language barrier. Interactive forms in Hindi will be made available on its website.

2: The first step towards breaking down language barriers

Mindful of the fact that the majority of Abu Dhabi residents are non-Arabic speakers, the ADJD has been keen to ensure language is no barrier to legal rights.

Last November, the department introduced English as an official second language in courts.

The procedures apply to civil and commercial courts only. Previously, all court documents were presented in Arabic only and defendants had to translate case files to learn the details of the cases against them.

Abu Dhabi courts were the first in the region to add English as an official second language, according to Chief Justice Yousef Al Abri, undersecretary of the judicial department.

3: Swift resolutions for minor disputes

A new Summary Cases Court was launched last month to tackle mounting labour cases and ensure justice isn't delayed for those who have been wronged.

Straightforward cases such as employers withholding passports of employees, or failing to provide health insurance, can now be dealt with in a day at the court, having previously taken weeks to resolve.

The Summary Cases Court will save valuable time and money, according to Ahmad Al Yassi, director of labour relations at the Department of Human Resources and Emiratisation. Victor Besa /The National  
The Summary Cases Court will save valuable time and money, according to Ahmad Al Yassi, director of labour relations at the Department of Human Resources and Emiratisation. Victor Besa /The National  

Located above the Twa-Fouq centre in the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, the Summary Cases Court registers a case and presents it in front of a judge, who can issue a ruling that same day.

It complements the One Day Labour Court which was introduced in October 2017 to speed up the judicial process.

“The new court will save time and costs. Everything is in the same building, and the person does not even need to carry any file or document with him,” said Ahmad Al Yassi, director of labour relations at the Department of Human Resources and Emiratisation

4: Giving churches power to oversee marital matters

In 2017, ADJD gave churches the authority to approve marriages and mediate divorces in a bid to give non-Muslims an alternative to the Sharia system (islamic law).

Before the change was brought into force, anyone applying for a divorce in Abu Dhabi had to go through mandatory meditation sessions with court counsellors. This was usually conducted in Arabic with the help of a translator for non-Arab speakers.

Churches stressed that they did not intend to make the divorce process any easier, as they would also put the couple through a meditation process aiming to help them reconcile.

Rev Joseph Faragalla, head of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Evangelical Church, told the National at the time of the announcement that his church welcomed non-Muslims, regardless of their denomination.

He said those seeking a divorce, for example, would go through mandatory mediation by the church and “if they are at their wits’ end, and there is no way but divorce, then the church will grant them a divorce and register it at ADJD”.

Churches were also given the authority to deal with wills and inheritance.

Under sharia, in the event of someone’s death, all assets are typically frozen while members of the extended family are contacted to determine if they have a claim. This can leave surviving family members with no access to funds or assets for a lengthy period of time.

5: The legal system embraces technology

In an effort to speed up the judicial process, technology is set to play a big role in the capital's courtrooms for years to come.

It was announced last September that courts in Abu Dhabi are to allow trials to take place with the use of video conferencing, in cases where it is inconvenient to bring defendants from prison.

Chief Justice Alawadi Al Mahri, head of the Abu Dhabi penal courts, said the sessions will be transmitted live between court and the prison.

The new procedures follow federal law no 5, 2017, which allows the criminal and misdemeanour courts to hold trials through video conference, he said.

The Abu Dhabi Judicial Department has not stated when video links will be rolled out in Abu Dhabi courts.