In celebration of Emirati Women’s Day, Economy Middle East interviewed Fatima Balfaqeeh, founder of Balfaqeeh Advocates & Legal Consultants. She is a UAE-certified advocate specializing in arbitration, mediation, and business consulting.
Fatima is an Adjunct Lecturer in Law at Middlesex University Dubai and has over 20 years of experience working in government and semi-government entities in Abu Dhabi. She has extensive experience in commercial, legal, and operational matters across various sectors, including construction, finance, and banking.
She is a Chartered Arbitrator of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb), a member and Chartered Facilities Management Surveyor of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply Chain (CIPS).
Fatima founded her consultancy in 2018, which evolved into a fully-fledged law firm in 2023.
During the interview with Fatima just ahead of Emirati Women’s Day, we asked:
How and why did you choose a career in law?
I have always had an interest in Law, but it was not my first or even second degree, I chose to first study a Bachelor of Business Sciences minoring in Finance from Zayed University.
Then I did a Masters of Business Sciences in International Business. After working in the field of Contracts and Procurement and my involvement in Contracts Negotiations and Claims management, I decided to start my career in Arbitration and study for my bachelor’s in law. This was possible with dedication, finding the right mentors, and relying on my passion for education and the field. I aim to be a subject matter expert when it comes to dispute avoidance and dispute resolution in its alternative methods, such as mediation and arbitration or its traditional forms.
Do laws in the UAE equally protect women’s rights in civil, commercial, or other types of legal conflicts, as they do men?
It is always a good reminder to take a look at the UAE Laws and the extent to which it guarantees the equal rights of men and women. This is not only evident in the UAE constitution, but also in all of the UAE government’s actions and conduct. The UAE has committed to gender balance in the workplace, where it is ranked in the top 25 countries globally that achieved national gender balance in accordance with the survey done by the UN Gender Inequality Index.
Moreover, the UAE has supported those efforts by issuing a number of legislations, such as the “Discrimination and Hatred” Law which prohibits all gender-based discrimination, allowing women to run and vote for political positions, updating the UAE labor law in 2021 to ensure women’s rights are protected during pregnancy, ensuring equal pay, and access to maternity leave for 12 weeks paid.
What support messages can you send to Emirati Women about a career in law?
Careers in law are becoming vastly diverse and widely acceptable in our society. Now we don’t only see women acting as lawyers, legal advisors, arbitrators, and mediators, but also judges in a lot of the circuits in the courts. If any woman has the passion to pursue law and wants to keep developing her craft and her knowledge, the sky is the limit to what she can achieve within this field.
When is the best time to choose to litigate when settling disputes, and when to arbitrate?
Litigation and arbitration are both available tools; it is up to the disputing parties to agree on which will be a better fit to resolve their disputes and get access to justice.
Litigation is the traditional way to resolve disputes through courts, which will go through 3 degrees of litigation, and the proceedings would be public and very accessible.
As for arbitration, it is a more confidential process that allows the parties to choose a specialized independent “judge” to be able to determine your dispute. However, the risk is that there are no degrees of litigation within arbitration – the final award is legally binding to both disputing parties.
The decision of whether to go to arbitration or litigation is best made when you are drafting the contract. It is advisable to speak to a lawyer specializing in dispute resolution at the time of drafting the contracts to explain all possible options.
Can you explain onshore and offshore courts and the advantages one has over the other in both litigation and arbitration?
The UAE is in a very unique position where we operate within a dual jurisdiction system. We have our onshore system, which uses our national and federal laws in the UAE that are based on the civil law principles and the national and federal courts that operate entirely in Arabic, versus, the offshore courts in Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) and Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) courts which are autonomous jurisdictions that operate an English common law legal system. Offshore has its own legal framework and it is a very popular choice for international businesses that operate within DIFC, ADGM, or even the UAE.
All of these options whether it is litigation within the UAE courts, the Offshore courts in DIFC and ADGM, or even Arbitration which is supported by the UAE’s Federal Arbitration Law 6/2018, have been created and provided by the UAE government to further establish our unique position of being an international economic and business hub offering different tools that work for all types of investments and provides re-assurance for all parties that their rights are protected and they can have access to justice in the method that better fits their business needs.
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