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Translating laws into English to increase visibility in murky Gulf waters

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in Legal

In an effort to increase the transparency of the legal system the UAE Ministry of Justice has announced that all laws passed since the founding of the emirate in 1971 will soon be translated into English and be made available online.

As part of the move, some 1,500 federal court decisions, 500 international treaties ratified by the UAE and nearly 2000 official fatwas issued by UAE muftis will be translated yielding a centralised and easily accessible body of case law and statutes in the vernacular and English.

Abdulla al Majid, a Ministry of Justice adviser and the director of the translation project, said that translating and consolidating UAE law in this way will not only help improve understanding of the emirate’s legal system internationally but will also help increase the confidence international companies have in investing in the country. “There are more people that speak English than Arabic in the UAE and our goal is to make the laws available to them,” he said.

All the documents will be posted online at The website will initially be free for public access, after which the government is reportedly considering asking users for a subscription fee.

The translation project has been underway for the past two years with more than 80 lawyers, academics and translators from the US, Lebanon and the UAE working around the clock.

al Majid added that the project would see every law amended since 1973 translated. Although the country was founded in 1971 with the passage of the Constitution, the first federal laws were not passed for another two years.

“This is clearly a wealth of information that for the first time is available to the public directly from the Ministry of Justice and not from a law firm. The best feature about this is the search engine which allows you to find even one word amid a sea of legal documents. That changes the face of research for academics, lawyers, judges, businesses and the public. You can imagine the kind of impact this will have on the overall justice system.”

Ashley Painter, a Dubai-based partner with Clyde & Co, is similarly enthused with the move, saying that it will make the job of international lawyers working in the UAE easier. “Any move which seeks to translates laws from Arabic into English is a good one. It will make our job here much easier and will only serve to increase the confidence of foreign investors coming into the region. It will certainly increase transparency.”

But according to Painter, it is still unclear as to whether the English-language laws will be considered official translations. “The more interesting thing, which has not been addressed to my knowledge in the current program, is whether the translations become official translations, whether they can actually be relied on in court.”

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