New law seeks greater power and independence for UAE justice system

ABU DHABI // A constitutional amendment aimed at providing complete autonomy for the Judiciary Department and greater power for judges was passed by the FNC yesterday.

Discussed in the presence of the Minister of Justice, Dr Hadef Al Dhaheri, the law was drafted in a closed session by a group of judges amid calls for financial and administrative independence from the ministry.

The draft law, which had 135 articles, also called for a Federal Judicial Council led by a judge, rather than the Minister of Justice.

The judge would have the same status as a minister, said Dr Abdul Wahab Abdoul, Chief Justice of the Federal Supreme Court.

Musabah Al Ketbi (Sharjah), the secretary of the FNC’s legal and legislative affairs committee, said the law was amended extensively by the committee “to improve the Judiciary Department in the UAE”.

“This is something we have asked for before. The law now is much better,” Mr Al Ketbi said.

While members would not elaborate on details of the amendments, Dr Abdoul said if the law remained as submitted, it would achieve what judges had wanted for a long time.

“As judges, we see that the Supreme Federal Judicial Council is a judicial institution,” he said.

“The members are high-ranking judges and when it comes to the minister being the head, we see this as abnormal or not acceptable. An executive body cannot head a judicial institution.”

“We also want the head to be ranked at the same level as a minister, not an under secretary,” Dr Abdoul added. “And the head can be the eldest or anyone they see fit, it does not matter.”

He said the Judicial Department also needed its own budget, separate from the ministry’s.

“All this will increase independency of the Judicial Department and help judges to not be afraid of another power because they would be equal.”

Dr Abdoul said that while the current system worked well, the judges wanted to improve it, giving a sense of security to themselves and litigants.

“As the Chief Justice, I am completely convinced the court sticks to the highest standards and justice, but we also want to be better,” he said.

“Firstly, before anything, it will improve the work of the judiciary as there are new things in the draft law which will ensure independency.”

It was not clear whether the amendment would revoke the attorney general’s right to appeal verdicts, as lawyers have suggested.

“The current law gives [the attorney general] the right to appeal verdicts if he saw that the verdict is in violation to the law,” Dr Abdoul said.

“So he can, but this is not interference. The minister, however, does not have this power and cannot interfere.”

The law will now be handed over to the Cabinet before requiring the President’s approval.

The council will not convene again until October.

This term the FNC held 14 sessions, discussed 13 draft laws and two general topics on social security and environmental problems, and asked 44 questions to several ministers.

From those questions, 13 recommendations were passed to the Cabinet, including decreasing petrol prices, establishing a federal dress code law and increasing the monitoring of imported food and products offensive to religions.