When the DIFC Courts’ Small Claims Tribunal (SCT) was established in 2007, it signalled a shift in the region’s approach to resolving lower value, relatively straightforward commercial disputes. Rather than seeking to hear those types of cases in a courtroom with teams of lawyers and panels of judges, the SCT offered a system better suited to the scale of the dispute and, often, the circumstances of those involved.
The Tribunal’s emphasis is on finding a solution that works for both parties, so the first step is a consultation with a certified mediator, rather than a judge, without lawyers present. If an agreement cannot be reached, a hearing before a Judge will then be scheduled. The result is generally faster, cheaper and more amicable dispute resolution.
A decade on, the SCT’s popularity is undiminished, with corporations, SMEs and individuals all routinely using the service to resolve their disputes in a private, informal setting. In fact, the first six months of 2017 have seen the SCT’s workload almost double as awareness and access have both soared, while total case values are up by more than half.
Since 2011, any party in the UAE, regardless of a direct connection to the DIFC, has been able to opt-in to the SCT’s jurisdiction, if both parties agree in writing. A significant marketing campaign at the end of 2016 and new partnerships like the one signed with the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre earlier this year have ensured that more companies than ever before are aware that this option is now open to them.
The other key factor driving the SCT’s standout performance in the first half of the year is accessibility. Last year saw the launch of the “Smart SCT,” a purpose-built facility in Dubai where only the Judge need be present, with the parties in dispute able to participate from anywhere in the world via advanced video equipment. This service was recently named among the world’s Top 10 Court Technology Solutions by the US-based National Association for Court Management, and has helped to remove geographical location as a factor in a party’s ability to gain justice.
By increasing awareness and expanding access, the SCT has enjoyed a tremendous start to the year. Its performance in the first six months of 2017 cements its place as a preferred forum for settling the smaller claims of corporations, SMEs and individuals, and confirms its status as a valued public service.
Nassir Al Nasser, Small Claims Tribunal (SCT) Judge and Registrar