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The legal system of the United Arab Emirates is based on the Constitution of the United Arab Emirates; this system is dual in nature as it has local and federal courts with a Supreme Court Based at Abu Dhabi.
Unlike Britain and other countries where previous court judgments are regularly used as legal precedents, the UAE does not depend that much on precedents, although sometimes the judgements of higher courts can be applied by lower courts in similar cases.
Where legislative provisions do not cover a specific issue, the court will make a decision in accordance with Sharia law. Islamic jurisprudence is widely used in the construction and interpretation of the UAE law.
Prior to the Union in 1971, the Trucial States were known as a protectorate of the British Empire established through a number of treaties. During that period, most disputes were handled by the rulers of the emirates, heads of local tribes, and unofficial judges following customary law. The primary source of law was Islam along with the unwritten social conventions or "Urf". Sharia judges specialized in family disputes whereas customary law judges handled criminal assaults and personal disputes. In the inland Bedouin communities, disputes usually related to livestock and water resources. Disputes in coastal cities were normally about trade and commercial relations, particularly related to the pearl trade.
The United Arab Emirates’ Constitution, which came into effect on 2 December 1971, dedicates all its fifth Section for the Union legal system. Article 94 of the Constitution stipulates that “justice is the basis of authority”.
The United Arab Emirates is essentially a civil law jurisdiction that depends in the first place on Roman, French, Egyptian laws . However, the main source of the Emirati law is the Sharia law. International law is another source of Emirati law, in compliance with the UAE obligations signed in international conventions.
Being the highest judicial instance in the UAE does not mean that it applies to the seven Emirates, Dubai and Ras Al Khayma have their own local judicial system. Article 96 of the UAE Constitution reads as follows “The Supreme Court of the Union shall consist of a President and a number of Judges, not exceeding five in all, who shall be appointed by decree, issued by the President of the Union after approval by the Supreme Council ”.
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