Being an international hub for business, the UAE has always accepted foreign professionals to operate and do business in the country, including international lawyers practicing in the UAE. It is important to note that all foreign practitioners in Dubai (and some other Emirates) are required to register as "legal consultants" if they would like to practice law of any sort in the UAE.
It was a complete surprise when a new bylaw was issued on 25 September 2017 by His Excellency Sultan bin Saeed Al Badi, Minister of Justice, by virtue of decision no. 972/20171 relating to the governance of the legal profession in the UAE.
The following extract from Article 2 of the new bylaw created the largest impact:
"Without prejudice to Article 20 of the Law, no person may practice legal profession unless his/her name is listed in the list of lawyers in good standing2. Furthermore, the Courts, Arbitration Tribunals, and the Judicial & Administrative Committees are prohibited from accepting the POA of any person who is not registered as a good standing practicing lawyer.
No Power of Attorney shall be issued including any activity that is restricted to lawyers, or attending or pleading or performing any judicial action before any of the bodies noted in the first paragraph of this Article except for the practicing lawyers in good standing ..."
The way it is written in Arabic, it implies that the list of lawyers in good standing is the list of registered advocates in the UAE ("Advocates")3. As only Emiratis (with a few exceptions) are registered as Advocates and have the right to represent clients in local courts, the new bylaw effectively meant that any arbitration held in the UAE required the involvement of an Emirati lawyer registered as an Advocate to represent clients. Therefore, on this interpretation, any international law firm representing clients in UAE arbitrations without Emirati co-counsel would be required to appoint local lawyers to attend the arbitration proceedings just as they would in matters before the local Courts.
When this bylaw came into effect on 26 September 2017 it unsurprisingly resulted in a great debate within the UAE's legal profession. Many questions were raised, and clarification was sought from the relevant UAE authorities.
On 7 December 2017 the Dubai Legal Affairs Department (DLAD) shed the light to the seemingly- ambiguous Article 2. A letter issued by the DLAD to the DIFC Arbitration Institute clarified that these bylaws do not apply automatically in Dubai as Dubai is one of the Emirates that has its own judicial systems. Furthermore, the clarification noted that all licensed practitioners are considered to be on the list of lawyers in good standing. This meant that the foreign legal practitioners whom have registered themselves as "legal consultants" have the right to represent clients before Arbitration Tribunals.
On 15 June 2018 the new Federal Arbitration Law no. 6 of 20184 came into effect (issued on 3rd of May 2018, published on 15 May 2018 with effective date of one month after publication) and finally cleared all remaining doubts in its Article 33 which noted:
"5. The Parties may, on their own costs, seek the assistance of experts and legal representatives such as attorneys and others to represent them before the Arbitral Tribunal ..."
This simply overrode the bylaws (972/2017) and any debate about the application of Article 2 of the bylaw is now over. During the course of an arbitration in the UAE, parties may choose their legal representatives without restrictions and at their discretion.
1. Ministerial Decision No. 972 of 2017 on the Executive Regulations of the Federal Law No. (23) of 1991 on the Regulation of the Legal Profession
2. List of Lawyers with Good Standing refers to the list of lawyers who are registered with the Ministry of Justice or the relevant judicial body in any of the Emirates that has its own judicial system and accepted as practicing lawyers within the UAE or that specific judicial body.
3. Only Emirati lawyers (with few exceptions) may be registered as an Advocate before the Ministry of Justice and/or Judicial Bodies in the specific Emirates that has its own Judicial System (i.e., Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Ras Al Khaimah) there are other lists for legal practitioners who are registered with different regulatory authorities but these are not considered advocates who are allowed to represent Clients before local courts (with exception to the DIFC and ADGM)
4. The UAE Federal Arbitration Law No. 6 of 2018
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.