Courts and Tribunals


In earlier times tribunals have always been considered to be the subtypes of courts. However, today there is a new tendency, which discloses the whole range of differences between a court and a tribunal as well as marks tribunals as modern alternative judicial decisions. Therefore, they start to be treated as contrasting legal units. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the underlying conceptions of courts and tribunals coincide in many aspects while they serve similar purposes.

In his article on tribunals, professor Kim Lovegrove (2012) gives a consistent description of similarities that bind courts and tribunals together. Thus, the legal institutions share the following features: openness, independence, transparency, and the rights of parties to appeal against the decisions of both courts and tribunals (Lovegrove, 2012).

Concerning the differences between courts and tribunals, there is a number of them to be reviewed. For instance, courts are based on the stable law systems, which were established centuries ago, while tribunals tend to change its backbone quite often; there is no ‘independence of judiciary’ principle applied in tribunals; courts, in contrast to them, are supposed to follow the evidence rules. In general, one can distinguish the following key differences that put a strong line of demarcation between the legal institutions:

  1. Courts are considered to be more formal and expensive than tribunals. They tend to follow much longer and elaborate ways of resolving various law disputes.
  2. Members of tribunals usually have quite general knowledge of the topics they work at. Therefore, no special law expertise is required for them to study. In contrast to them, members of the court qualify in specific professional spheres of law (Justice Education Society n.d.).

It is hard to judge which institution has more legal rights to review the cases.

That is also impossible to say which of them can bring better decisions. It would be more correct to draw a stable distinction between a court and a tribunal as well as ensure that the two can not deliver judgments on the same matter. Therefore, tribunals should be dedicated to administrative cases while they do not require any special training or expertise in specific areas of law. Administrative cases are direct, they demand a much lower level of responsibility than the criminal ones. Consequently, people who are even overtly trained in the law can bring judgments on such cases. Opposite to administrative law matters, the criminal ones usually require deep professional expertise delivered by people who are qualified in specific areas. In this case, one may speak of the responsibility as well, since criminal matters usually involve potential imprisonment, while in administrative cases people are mostly charged with fines.

The level of difference between courts and tribunals varies with a country. Some states mark them as separate legal institutions while others demonstrate quite a vague distinction between them and view tribunals as subdivisions of courts. Some judiciary systems do not have tribunals at all. Therefore, this matter has to be verified according to the country, which is implementing it.

Courts and Tribunals in the United Arab Emirates

The Arab world has long proved to differ from the other countries in many aspects: from the traditional customs to political management. The same tendency may be traced in the legal system of the United Arab Emirates. The main reason for such a strong distinction is religion, which has a great impact on the background of the country.

The system of law in the United Arab Emirates was shaped in a short period. In his book on the rule of law in the Arab world, Nathan Brown (2006) states: “those involved in the creation of modern court structures and legal codes are easily identified, and their writings and actions are thus not difficult to uncover” (p. 10). Therefore, the author hints at the authoritarian way of establishing the rules of law in the country, which is directed by the religion of Islam.

To understand the specific features of laws in the United Arab Emirates, one should view the legal system of the country in detail. It has a federal law system. The three branches within the court structure may be distinguished. They are civil, criminal, and Sharia law. Because the country positions itself as a religious hub, the traditional court system would not prove to be effective in this part of the world. Alternatively, there is a tendency to solve legal disputes through tribunals. It especially concerns the cases, which are governed by civil and Sharia law. Consequently, the tribunal finds its favor in the Arab world and becomes the primary means of the jurisdiction in the United Arab Emirates. Such form of judgment differs from its matches in the other countries, while tribunals are allowed to hear the appeals not only on civil cases but on some criminal cases such as robbery and rape as well (Sakr, 2005).

Due to the purely religious character of law in the United Arab Emirates, the judgments, which are brought through tribunals in the country seem quite doubtful, since the disputes are resolved by people who have no special training in law and are guided by religious prejudices, which often contradicts the human rights. However, a big deal of doubtful decisions is made not only by tribunals but by the courts as well. The major points on which Arab courts and tribunals are often criticized are the matter of unfair treatment of non-Emirati in the country, the government suppressive politics, and gender inequality.

To prove the point, one may refer to the bizarre case in the history of world law, which happened in the United Arab Emirates. In 2013, the Abu Dhabi court opened a trial on a strange pretext: 94 activists were accused of the attempts to overthrow the central government of the country. The case itself was based upon some mystery plot, which held no evidence. During 7 months of prosecution, the activists were kept in secret detention and held multiple signs of obvious torture afterward. The matter was, in fact, purely political and meant to demonstrate the strengths and dictatorship of the ruling government (Hearst, 2013).

Concerning the matter of non-Emirati, the history of Arab law demonstrates some vivid examples of illegal prejudices within the tribunal. In 2007 a French girl on a visit to Dubai was raped by 3 Arab boys. Though sexual abuse is harshly judged in the country, the official government attempted to cover up the case together with the fact that one of the boys was HIV-positive. The only reason for that was, obviously, the national bias (Cambanis, 2007).


To sum it up, the contradictory examples of the law history of the United Arab Emirates prove the following point: neither court nor tribunal is illegal unless it issues illegal decisions. In other words, both institutions have their rights in existence, but the underlying conceptions of the two have to comply with the internationally approved principles of human rights.


Brown, N. (2006). The Rule of Law in the Arab World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cambanis, T. (2007, November 1). In rape case, a French youth takes on Dubai. The New York Times. Web.

Hearst, D. (2013). The UAE’s bizarre, political trial of 94 activists. The Guardian. Web. 

Justice Education Society. (n.d.). Tribunals VS. Courts. Web. 

Lovegrove, K. (2012). Tribunals Explained Along With Their Strengths & Weaknesses. Lovegrove Smith & Cotton. Web. 

Sakr, M. (2005). The Courts System in the UAE. Liberty Magazine, 32(3), 21-26.

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