Most have faith in justice - except for westerners

The language barrier and the pace of judgments are cited as reasons for the lack of faith.

When it comes to the courts, 65 per cent of all 1,072 respondents say they have faith in the judicial system. However, this falls to 36 per cent of westerners, of whom only five per cent express a strong faith in justice in the UAE and 57 per cent say they have no faith at all. Arab expatriates (78 per cent) have the most faith in the system, followed closely by Emiratis (75 per cent) and Asians (64 per cent).

A similar exercise that was conducted among those who had been involved with the police was carried out among the 22 per cent of respondents who had had experience of the courts. This poll of 231 people, though small, still revealed certain issues - one of which was that the overall aggregated approval rating for the courts (35 per cent) over nine categories was similar to that for the police (39 per cent).

Once again, the highest satisfaction was recorded by Arab expatriates, whose approval rating averaged at out 46 per cent. For Emiratis it was 36 per cent, for Asians 28 per cent and for westerners only 12 per cent. Examination of the details reveals that some of the problem lies in the barriers of language and culture - an area for improvement in an otherwise enthusiastically multicultural country.

A majority of westerners found the courts uncaring (48 per cent), their proceedings hard to follow (65 per cent) and the processes hard to understand (59 per cent) and opaque (67 per cent). Furthermore, they regarded the courts as slow (67 per cent), biased (51 per cent), ineffective (56 per cent) and unhelpful (56 per cent). Mohammed al Roken, one of the country's leading lawyers, said the language gap was one of the main reasons westerners mistrusted the justice system, but it was also because it operated at a different pace.

"The UAE is a civil law system while I suspect most of the westerners are from common law systems," he said. "This makes the matter lengthier than it is in common law system." Because the courts operated on the exchange of written memorandums between the defence and the public prosecution, "this prolongs the cases for months or even a year". More than half of everyone polled (58 per cent) believe that in the UAE the punishment meted out by the courts typically fits the crime, but 28 per cent disagree.

Once again, it is westerners (64 per cent) who are the most cynical; conversely, Emiratis and Arab expatriates are supportive of the system, 71 per cent of both groups judging that the punishment generally fits the crime. There was, said Mr al Roken, no doubt that the transient population of the UAE had challenged the system. "Bail is an issue that is behind the mistrust," he said. "In western countries you can have a guarantor to go on bail. Here the Public Prosecution argues that if the person is let [out] on bail, there is no guarantee that he will not escape."

In some western countries bail is granted to those who would pose no threat to society if released. In the UAE, a person who is, for instance, accused of issuing a cheque with insufficient funds faces imprisonment until a verdict is reached. The public's misunderstanding of the justice system, he said, meant "there needs to be greater effort to educate foreigners on the law".