Language barriers can create legal problems for expats, says expert


DUBAI: Expatriates may face legal challenges in the UAE because of lack of understanding and language barriers in the country’s legal system, an expert in the profession has said.

Sunil Ambalavelil, managing partner at Kaden Boriss UAE, told Arab News that most expatriates are not Arabic-conversant and hence cannot convey their grievances to the courts in the country, which are clearly cases of lost in translation.

“I know many cases where an expatriate had to face legal problems because he did not know the language and signed Arabic papers without understanding them. And as a foreign legal firm we could not get direct access to the courtroom and were unable to help our client,” said Sunil, who has worked in the UAE for more than a decade.

In any event, it is important for expats to write a will to avert complications in legal procedure should the unexpected happen, he said.

Sunil and his company have come up with a solution to address these challenges. They have signed a joint cooperation agreement with Al Jashani advocates and legal consultants — an Emirati law firm.

“We are confident that, with the support of the Jashani law firm, we will be able to help our clients more efficiently. We will also be able to cross-utilize strengths and specialties of both law firms,” said Ambalavelil.

Eighty percent of Ambalavelil’s clients are non-Arabic-speaking Indians who are engaged in business-related litigations in the UAE. “Most of the litigants face issues like problems with local sponsors, partnership issues, cheque bounces and real estate matters,” he added.

While pointing out that the most common legal complaints are from Indians investing in Dubai properties, Amblavelil said: “When they are buying properties sitting in India, people have little clue how to deal with financial issues in Dubai. This eventually leads to issues like cheque bounce, default claims, etc.”

He said it is very important for everyone to understand the law of the land before investing, otherwise things may get complicated and there is a chance of losing the money.

He admitted, however, that the legal system is expensive in the UAE but it is the same everywhere. “Court expenses are quite high wherever you live. However, it is a myth to say that UAE is the most expensive place for legal procedure. And there are several options available for those who cannot pay the bills. There are organizations and even law firms who support their client if they find the case is genuine.”

Ambalavelil said the UAE’s legal foundation is Sharia-compliant, but civil law prevails in the country. “The foundation is certainly based on Islamic rules and jurisdiction but the legal system is civil. An expatriate should not feel reluctant to approach UAE courts just because he does not have a clear understanding of Sharia laws.”

He also emphasized the importance of writing a will. “If you are an expatriate living in the UAE, then you must have a will ready in case of any unforeseen event. Death can occur any time and if the expatriate doesn’t have a legal will then his/her family may face lots of challenges in legal procedure.

“In the absence of a will, Sharia hereditary laws are applied in deceased financial and family matters which may not be suitable to that family. Hence it’s better to have will cover to save the family from challenges.”

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