Serving English Court Proceedings in UAE
A query which frequently arises in cross-border civil disputes involving UAE based individuals or companies is, once the English court agrees to grant permission for service out of jurisdiction, how this is effected in practice.
When serving English civil court proceedings in the UAE, as this constitutes service out of the jurisdiction, pursuant to CPR r. 6.36, permission of the court is required, and the claim form may be served if any of the grounds in paragraph 3.1 of PD 6B apply.
This article will consider the procedure involved in serving English court proceedings within the UAE, as opposed to the jurisdictional issues relevant to applying for permission to serve out of the jurisdiction.
Once permission has been granted by the English court, in order to serve by usual means (as opposed to alternative service, discussed further below), the relevant legislation is the “Treaty between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United Arab Emirates on Judicial Assistance in Civil and Commercial Matters” (“Treaty”).
Article 4(1) of the Treaty provides that the UK and the UAE are to grant each other “mutual judicial assistance in civil and commercial matters to the highest degree possible in accordance with their domestic law”. Article 4(2) confirms that ‘judicial assistance’ applies to the service of judicial documents.
Article 5 and 6 of the Treaty provide that in order to serve court proceedings, all official documents are to be sealed by the court/other competent authority and a request for judicial assistance made by the ‘Central Authorities’ and be transmitted through ‘Diplomatic Channels’. In respect of serving documents in respect of proceedings in England and Wales, this would mean the Senior Master of the Queen’s Bench Division of the Supreme Court of Justice, making a request for service to the Ministry of Justice in the UAE.
Effecting service by operation of the Treaty (via diplomatic channels) however, can take several months. As such, those serving should bear in mind the six-month time limit (CPR 7.5(2)) for serving out of jurisdiction, and be prepared to make an application to extend time for compliance with CPR 7.5 if/when necessary. In particular, the need to take all reasonable steps to comply with CPR 7.5, and to make the application promptly should be emphasised (see CPR 7.6(3) and Michelle Foran v (1) Secret Surgery Ltd (2) Powszechny Zaklad Ubezpieczen Spolka Akcyjna (3) Wojciech Waclawowicz (4) Emc Instytut Medyczny Spolka Ackyjna  EWHC 1029 (QB)).
Once the Ministry of Justice has confirmed that the document can be served on the individual/entity within the UAE, these documents are usually served by the designated “Process Server”, which can vary between the Emirates, by the methods stipulated within the UAE procedural rules (currently UAE Cabinet Decision 57 of 2018 (as amended)). Within Dubai, service is usually effected by a ‘Bailiff’ of the Dubai Courts.
Article 7(2) of UAE Cabinet Decision 57 of 2018 (as amended) provides for how private individuals/companies are to be served:
- “For private juristic persons, private and individual companies, associations and institutions, and foreign companies that have a branch or office in the State, in case the notice is related to the branch of the company, then it shall be served as per the provisions of clause (1) of Article (6) of this Regulation. The notice shall be delivered at the administration thereof to their legal representative or any person having similar capacity, or any of its partners, as the case may be. In the absence of a legal representative or a person acting in his capacity, the notice shall be delivered to an employee of their office. Where any of such entities does not have a head office, or it is closed or its manager or any of its employees refuse to receive the notice, such notice shall be posted on the Court’s website, displayed directly without permission from the Court or published, as the case may be.”
Article 6(1) of UAE Cabinet Decision 57 of 2018 (as amended) provides for methods of service:
- “The notice shall be served to the addressee in any of the following methods:
a- Voice or video recorded calls, SMS, smart applications, e-mail or fax, or any other means of modern technology or any other means mentioned in this Regulation and agreed upon by the parties.
b- In person wherever found, at his domicile or place of residence or to his agent. In case of failure to serve the notice for any reason related to the addressee or because the latter refused to receive such notice, then this shall be considered as the notice is served to him in person. If the process server does not find the addressee at his domicile, he shall deliver the notice thereof to any of the persons living with the addressee, including spouses, relatives, in-laws or shall deliver the notice thereof to any of the persons living with the addressee, including spouses, relatives, in-laws or servants. In the event that the aforementioned persons refuse to receive the notice or to be informed thereof or in case of not finding anyone who may be informed or have the right to receive the notice or in case the place of residence is closed, then the notice shall be prominently placed on the external door of his place of residence or shall be listed on the electronic website of the Court.
c- At his elected domicile.
d- At his workplace. In case the Process Server does not find the addressee at his workplace, he shall deliver the notice to the employer or to any manager or responsible or an employee as deemed appropriate.”
Serving by usual means within the UAE, as described above, can however take a considerable length of time, and in certain circumstances may be difficult to effect.
If it is proving particularly difficult to effect service by ordinary means, a possible alternative is via an application under CPR r.6.15(1), for ‘Service of the claim form by an alternative method or at an alternative place’.
Such alternative means are wide, and could include service on a related company or similar, even if they are still located in the UAE. The variety of different possible alternative methods/places, and when applications for permission for alternative service are likely to be granted, is beyond the scope of this article.
Whilst it is likely that service through the Treaty should be pursued in the first instance before an application for alternative service would be accepted, this route is of prospective assistance if service through usual means proves difficult.
However, it should be noted that if service is not provided via usual means, the UAE courts are not likely to consider there to have been effective service. As confirmed by a circular sent to law firms within the UAE in late 2010, a warning was issued stating that it was forbidden for law firms to receive judicial notices or documents sent from outside the UAE or deliver them to UAE nationals or residents, underlining that any foreign judicial notices were required to be sent through diplomatic channels/via the MOJ.
With this in mind, the UK Supreme Court case of Abela & Ors v Baadarani  UKSC 44 is noted.
In this matter, it was determined that the question, was whether the alternative service would be good service under English law, not whether alternative service would be good service under the local law. Abela concerned service of a party in Lebanon, and the court accepted that the alternative service proposed would not be good service under Lebanese law, but it was clarified that this was not the purpose of alternative service. If the alternative means had been good service under Lebanese law, the party applying would not have needed alternative service.