Dubai’s DIFC Courts absorbs escalation of commercial claims with 100% virtual hearings

  • Dubai’s English-language common law jurisdiction records increased claims across main Divisions
  • Increased number of multi-national businesses electing to use the DIFC Courts for regional dispute resolution
  • Courts of Space initiative launched with international Working Group

Dubai, United Arab Emirates; 23 August 2021: The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts today released its figures for the first six months of 2021, confirming a maturing trend of significant year-on-year increases in claims filed with Dubai’s English-language common law jurisdiction.

Since the onset of the COVID-pandemic in 2020, the DIFC Courts has evolved rapidly to introduce increased remote hearings and digital capabilities, whilst increasing operational efficiency. With 100% of hearings now taking place remotely through digital platforms in 2021, court users have greater choice and flexibility across core service offerings, ensuring more expedient access to justice.

The rapid transition to fully digital remote hearings also aligns the DIFC Courts with the directive issued in June 2021 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, with the Ministry of Justice instructed to hold 80% of litigation sessions virtually on a permanent basis before the end of 2021.

The volume of cases in the main Court of First Instance (CFI) increased by 11% in 2021, from the same period in 2020. The total value of cases across the CFI in the same period amounted to AED 2.8 billion, an increase of 27% year-on-year, with an average case value of AED 56.9 million. Cases within the Arbitration Division under the CFI also recorded an increase of 36% in 2021. The total value of claims across all Divisions amounted to AED 3.4 billion.

Cases brought before the CFI covered a range of sectors including banking and finance, construction, real estate, and manufacturing and involving disputes related to breach of contract, outstanding payments, Wills & Probate, and employment. There was also a noticeable number of ‘opt-in’ cases for the first six months of 2021, with 50% of claims in the CFI cases originating from parties ‘electing’ to use the DIFC Courts to resolve their disputes.

Reinforcing the Courts’ record of certainty for business through enforceable judgments, the total value of enforcement claims filed amounted to AED 568 million for the first half of 2021, an increase of 198% year-on-year. The total number of enforcement claims recorded an 8% increase, compared with the first six months of 2020.

The operational capacity of the region’s first Small Claims Tribunal (SCT) was strong in the first six months of 2021, with 201 claims filed and overall claim value totaling AED 20 million. Claims were driven primarily by disputes involving breach of contract, employment, banking & finance, and property & tenancy. Greater awareness and the innovative use of technology, including the region’s first “Smart SCT” virtual court, has led to over 64% of claims registered originating from parties selecting the SCT as their preferred method for dispute resolution. The SCT also held 100% of consultations and hearings in the first six months of 2021 across its digital remote platforms.

Zaki Azmi, Chief Justice, DIFC Courts, said: “The growing maturity of the DIFC Courts is now reflected in the increased awareness of, and trust in, our ability to not only offer world class access to court services, but also to ensure the highest standard of judicial expertise and oversight. We continue our drive towards full digital transformation and equipping our court users with the most advanced tools, creating legal security and certainty for businesses in an era of technological disruption. By combining a modern and flexible digital infrastructure with judicial and service excellence, the DIFC Courts now represents the new benchmark for international commercial courts.

Innovation drive elevating efficiency of services

In the first six months of 2021, the DIFC Courts became the first court in the UAE to acquire the qualified electronic seal solution Ethaq, a paperless initiative that enables digital authenticity of documents with the support of UAE PASS, the secure national digital identity platform for the United Arab Emirates.

Ethaq certificate is powered by Dubai Electronic Security Center (DESC). It recognises the DIFC Courts as the first Dubai entity to acquire the entirely paperless certificate that enables court documents to be electronically signed, issued, and authenticated, providing an end-to- solution that combines both an electronic seal and an electronic signature solution based on digitally verifiable identities.

The electronic seal Ethaq will also reinforce the security and integrity of the documentation and eradicates tampering of official documents, enabling users to digitally verify the authenticity of any legal documents through the DIFC Courts website.

In 2021 DIFC Courts and the Dubai Future Foundation (DFF) launched a new Courts of the Future initiative, activating Courts of Space. The launch of the project signals to the international space community the intent of the UAE to play a leading role in advancing its judicial systems to specifically direct capacity and capability to commercial space-related disputes.

Consisting of public and private sector bodies and experts, a Working Group has also been tasked with exploring space-related legal innovations and providing an outlook on potential outcomes of scenarios revolving around space-related disputes.

Among the many technologies the courts has pioneered to re-engineer and increase access to justice, is the region’s first e-Registry in 2009, digitally integrated courtroom and state-of-the-art e-Court Management System (CMS) in 2017, as well as the region’s first ‘paperless’ e-bundling solution in 2018.

Special project initiatives under the Courts of the Future have also assisted the DIFC Courts with advance R&D activities, uniting individuals and companies helping to prototype and launch the advancement of court technology, such as blockchain-powered initiatives, AI-enabled programmes, and cloud-based solutions.

Judicial excellence & partnership ecosystem

As well as reinforcing the current panel of judges in 2021 with additional prominent international expertise from the UK, the DIFC Courts achieved a new milestone by appointing the next generation of Emirati judges with trans-systemic expertise across civil and common law. The appointments by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, also confirms the DIFC Courts as the first court in the world to appoint a female Emirati judge to a common law court.

In line with the DIFC Courts’ continued mission to engage with entities across the UAE and beyond for cooperation and collaboration, new alliances with several UAE entities were also forged in the first half of 2021 – from Chambers of Commerce to free zone authorities and construction developers, such as Emaar Properties. In 2021, international judicial relationships with several court systems across the globe, from Ireland to Brazil, are also being finalised.


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