Plaintiffs in civil and commercial cases involving non-Arabic-speaking defendants will from Sunday have to translate case files into English in a first for the region.
The new rules introduced by Abu Dhabi Judicial Department apply to civil and commercial courts only, where the plaintiff is usually claiming money from the defendant – the only language the translations will be required in is English. 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.
Defendants, who may later have their defence upheld, would be required to have each page of the case file against them translated, which could be an expensive process if the case ran to several pages.
Abu Dhabi courts are 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.
“Our courts system is going hand in hand with the ambitious economic plans of our leaders,” Mr Al Abri said.
“A bilingual court will assure clarity, transparency and certainty for non-Arabic parties to a litigation, this is an essential step for improving non-Arabic speaking litigants’ access to justice and for enabling them to make better use of our court services.”
The judicial department studied the multilingual courts of Switzerland and Canada, aiming to make Abu Dhabi an attractive destination for foreign investors by reducing risk and increasing trust in the justice system.
“Some companies were reluctant to invest in Abu Dhabi when they found out that court cases are filed only in Arabic,” said Hesham Elrafei, a legal expert at the judicial department. “As an investor, it would feel as though it is too risky – if a dispute were to occur, I wouldn’t even be able to read the court files.”
Mr Elrafei said that until now, non-Arab residents, who make up the majority of the population in the UAE, had “a problem” when they received court documents in Arabic.
They might get confused as to what is being asked of them and, with each page of translation costing up to Dh100, it was costly. Now plaintiffs will be more likely to limit the length of their claims.
“Before, you would find plaintiffs stretching claims that could have been summed up in 50 pages to 1,000 pages, just to complicate the litigation,” he said. “The plaintiff is requesting something, so they should take the responsibility of paying for the translation.”
The new system does not apply to labour court cases, because, according to Mr Elrafei, labourers “cannot afford the translations, and they are claiming money from their employers, so it doesn’t make sense to make them pay”. The change does not apply to criminal and misdemeanour cases either.
The move is designed to boost foreign commercial investment in Abu Dhabi.
Investors have been choosing the free zone – the Abu Dhabi Global Market on Al Maryah Island, which has had its own English-language court since last year. But with the free zone, business is limited to Al Maryah Island.
Businesses on Al Maryah Island include the Galleria Mall, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, and the Rosewood and Four Seasons hotels.
The Abu Dhabi government’s 2030 vision aims to expand foreign investment across Abu Dhabi, and to make the emirate a top destination for skilled workers.
The judicial department has also introduced bilingual court forms such as rental-dispute claims, notary public applications and notification requests. “This is happening for the first time in the Middle East – courts across other Arab countries accept only Arabic forms and documents,” Mr Elrafei said.
“This is understandable in countries such as Egypt or Syria, where the majority of the population are Arabs, but in a country where the majority are foreigners, it is necessary to add English.
“Seventy per cent of the UAE population are non-Arabic speakers.”