Former Egyptian police officer metes out justice in Dubai’s One Day Court

Sunday 19/11/2017
Heavy responsibility. Judge Ayman Abdul Hakam. (Michael Jabri-Pickett)

Abu Dhabi - The legal system in Dubai has arguably never been more efficient, com­passionate or transparent. This is due, in part, to a 49-year-old former Egyptian police officer who presides over the One Day Court.
Some of the greatest threats to the stability of the emirate are financial crimes, said Judge Ayman Abdul Hakam, who also hears cases in the Misdemean­our Court. It is his work in the One Day Court, however, that is changing public perceptions. The court, which began operat­ing last March, was created to help clear the backlog of cases clogging the justice system and to reduce the number of people incarcerated for minor offences.
“The majority of cases heard in the One Day Court are cheque-related cases; 90% of which are bounced cheques,” Hakam said.
The One Day Court also handles cases involving consen­sual sex, the consumption of alcohol without a licence, begging and others.
Dubai is the second city in the world — Singapore was the first — to introduce a One Day Court. A full docket means Hakam, a Giza-born father of three boys, often hears 250-300 cases a day. Since the formation of the court, which was created by decree by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Hakam has ruled on more than 40,000 cases.
This may sound impossible but the One Day Court is designed specifically to process cases as quickly as they are reported. The same day a report is filed that a cheque bounced, the report goes to the prosecu­tion, which issues an arrest warrant.
“This all happens in one day,” Hakam said. If the justice system acts quickly and effi­ciently, then whoever is wanted on a bounced-cheque charge might be apprehended before leaving the country, he said.
There are tens of thousands of bad cheque cases in Dubai, he said. Some of these involve defendants who take out massive loans from banks with the intention to flee the United Arab Emirates. With the institu­tion of the One Day Court, the probability of catching these people is higher because so much of the paperwork is processed in a day. Under UAE law, bouncing a cheque for 100,000 dirhams ($27,200) or more can lead to jail time.
Speed is not a judge’s only responsibility, Hakam said. It is essential to be transparent and compassionate as much as the law allows.
“I have defendants in my court who have bounced cheques for 3 million dirhams ($816,606) and 5 million dir­hams ($1.36 million) and I tell them: ‘I will give you three years in jail or you can ask me how much time you need to reach a settlement. What is your choice?’ This is my moral and legal responsibility,” he said.
The judge said he is aware that some defendants “work the system.” They take out large loans with the intention of fleeing the country or transfer­ring the money outside the UAE. Once they are in front of the judge, these people often plead for mercy, Hakam said. Although they are in custody, they believe they have beaten the system because the money has been transferred beyond the reach of UAE authorities. “They also know that the jail here is very comfortable, not like in Egypt, for instance,” Hakam said.
Hakam graduated from the police academy in Egypt in 1990. He worked as a police officer for three years until his appointment as a public pros­ecutor, a position he held for eight years before being appointed a judge
Hakam, who is the son of a judge, has been with the Dubai courts since February 2014. He moved to the UAE because after the “Arab spring,” there was a lack of security in his home country. “It was chaotic,” he said. The situation had gotten to the point at which he felt the need to carry a gun to court, he said.
In Dubai, of the nearly 300 daily cases he hears at the One Day Court, Hakam estimates that about 70% involve defend­ants who are tried in absentia. These are people yet to be apprehended or who have fled the country.
Despite having ruled on tens of thousands of cases in less than a year, Hakam said the court is needed now more than ever. As Dubai grows, the number of bad cheque cases increases, he said.
“The One Day Court is not going anywhere. It is here to stay,” Hakam said.