Reading UAE Contract Law through the Lens of Islamic Jurisprudence: A Case Study on the ‘Extraneous Cause’ Exception in the UAE Civil Code
Jadalhaq, Iyad Mohammad
El Maknouzi, Mohammed El Hadi
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This article reveals the different formative layers at work in a mixed system of law, such as that of private law in the United Arab Emirates (uae), by focusing on the lack of coherence between competing ‘architectural principles’. This experience of friction is regularly encountered by a skilled interpreter of the law, in the course of his/her activity of ensuring predictable and appropriate legal responses to practical problems. Specifically, this piece tracks the interpretive difficulties surfacing in cases of supervening impossibility of performance for loss or damage to a necessary item, when that loss or damage originates in a causal factor outside of the defendant’s sphere of control (‘extraneous cause’). In such cases, the contract is terminated and the legal question shifts to one of awarding compensation for the loss or damage suffered by the item. In the face of this question, two competing criteria for assigning liability come into play. On the one hand, the civil law distinction between unilateral and bilateral contracts, meaning contracts giving rise to obligations upon only one or both parties to the contract. On the other hand, the categories of trust-based, liability-based and mixed possession in Islamic law. Here, liability is assigned based on the material circumstances that define the manner of possession, as opposed to looking at the abstract scheme of performance and (if available) counter-performance. The categories drawn from Islamic law have the potential to unify a number of apparently scattered provisions in the uae Civil Code: for this reason, the article puts forth a recommendation to follow the approach of the Iraqi Civil Code and acknowledge those categories as an explicit organising principle for assigning liability in the presence of an extraneous cause. The paper makes an additional recommendation to treat the classification of possession (as trust-based or liability-based) as a matter of public policy, unavailable for the parties’ consensual deviation.