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August 15, 2017 | 13:30 | Dubai
Dubai’s DIFC Courts witnessed sustained growth in the first six months of 2017, with the English-language, common law judiciary continuing to help global businesses resolve their largest and most complex disputes while becoming the increasingly preferred forum for settling the smaller claims of corporations, SMEs and individuals.
The workload of the main Court of First Instance (CFI), including arbitration-related cases and counter claims, continued to grow in the first half of 2017, increasing by 57 per cent from the first half of 2016. The total value of cases in the same period increased to AED 7.5 billion (H1 2016: AED 3.44 billion), a 118 per cent increase, although this figure was impacted by a particularly large arbitration case. The underlying trend for case values showed stable year-on-year growth.
The ongoing growth of CFI case volumes and values underscores the DIFC Courts’ maturity and position in the regional and international judicial landscape. This was further supported by a report from law firm Clyde & Co earlier this year that found between 2015-2017, where litigation was the preferred option for its regional clients, the DIFC Courts were chosen in 76 per cent of contracts dealing with Mergers and Acquisitions, making it the preferred Court system for handling such transactions.
The period was notable for the first enforcement of a United States court judgment, affirming the international connectivity of the DIFC Courts. They also further extended their international enforcement framework with the signing of a cooperation agreement with the Federal Court of Malaysia. Since their jurisdiction was opened to businesses worldwide in 2011, the DIFC Courts have established one of the world’s strongest enforcement regimes with jurisdictions including the Commercial Court of England and Wales, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, and the Shanghai High People’s Court.
Small Claims Tribunal awareness and access soar
The performance of the region’s first Small Claims Tribunal (SCT) was particularly noteworthy in the first six months of 2017, as its case load increased by 90 per cent to 150 (H1 2016: 79 cases), driven by greater awareness, the innovative use of technology, and new partnerships opening access to companies in free zones such as Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC). The total value of claims increased from AED 9 million to AED 13.9 million.
In 2016, the DIFC Courts launched the Smart SCT, enabling parties to resolve disputes from any location by participating via smartphone. Only the judge need be present in the purpose-built facility in Dubai, with screens showing the parties and a control panel making it possible to either open the virtual courtroom to all, or switch to private mode. In July, the Smart SCT was named among the world’s Top 10 Court Technology Solutions by the US-based National Association for Court Management.
Mark Beer, OBE, co-Chief Executive and Registrar General of the DIFC Courts, said: “The first half of 2017 saw the DIFC Courts serve big business, small firms and individuals seeking justice with equal consideration. Healthy growth in the main court cements our preferred status for resolving the biggest corporate disputes, while rapid growth in the Small Claims Tribunal underscores our ability to support SMEs and individuals. Our performance so far this year speaks to the maturity of the DIFC Courts, our position as a valued public service, and our status as global leader in the field of commercial justice.”
Innovation track record set to continue
The DIFC Courts has proven to be among the most innovative commercial courts in the world and have pioneered many firsts for Middle East judiciaries, including the region’s first Pro Bono programme and Small Claims Tribunal.
They recently affirmed their commitment to use technology to increase judicial efficiency by forming a partnership with one of the world’s leading technology companies to drive the digital transformation of commercial courts and create the courts of the future.
In October 2017 DIFC Courts will introduce a specialist Technology and Construction Division (TCD). A claim may be brought as a TCD case if it involves issues or questions which are technically complex, with a specialised Judge appointed to oversee disputes handled by the division.
Wills & Probate Registry
Driven partly by its extension to the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, the DIFC Wills & Probate Registry saw 780 new wills registered in the first six months of the year (H1 2016: 685 new wills). In total, 2,750 wills have been registered since the service’s May 2015 launch.
DIFC Academy of Law
The Pro Bono Programme run by the DIFC Academy of Law (AOL) continued to operate weekly clinics through the first six months of 2017, serving a total of 352 people. The number of volunteer firms involved with pro bono has risen to 50 and individual volunteer lawyers to 148.
Underscoring its commitment to develop the UAE’s next generation of legal professionals, the DIFC Academy of Law (AOL) also launched an annual Scholarship Programme for the country’s most promising law students. The first recipients were eight undergraduates from four law schools, with each awarded AED10,000 for tuition by the AOL, and a USD$500 award for textbooks from LexisNexis.