DIFC Courts
  • Legal framework
  • Jurisdiction
  • Function

Legal framework

The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) is designed to be a financial free zone offering a unique, independent legal and regulatory framework in order to create an environment for growth, progress and economic development in the UAE and the wider region.

The unique independent regulatory framework creating the DIFC and the DIFC Courts was made possible through a synthesis of Federal and Dubai Law. The steps taken are:

Federal Law

UAE Constitution

An amendment has been made to Article 121 of the UAE Constitution, which deals with the division of powers between Federal and Emirati authorities and which allows the Federation to enact a Financial Free Zone Law. This in turn allows an Emirati Government to create a Financial Free Zone within a particular Emirate.

Federal Law No. 8 of 2004

Federal Law No.8 of 2004: Regarding The Financial Free Zones in the United Arab Emirates (the Financial Free Zone Law), was gazetted on 27 March 2004.

This law allows a Financial Free Zone to be established in any Emirate of the UAE, by Federal Decree. Importantly, it exempts Financial Free Zones from all federal civil and commercial laws within the UAE, although UAE criminal law still applies.

The DIFC is therefore empowered to create its own specific legal and regulatory framework for all civil and commercial matters.

Federal Decree No. 35 of 2004

A Federal Decree then specifically established the DIFC as a Financial Free Zone in the Emirate of Dubai.


  1. A resolution of the Federal Cabinet prescribes the geographical area and location of the DIFC in the heart of Dubai. It is an area of approximately 110 acres located beside Sheikh Zayed Road, marked by the DIFC headquarters ‘Gate’ building. The area is designed as a self-contained and concentrated hub of financial activity.
  2. To allow for construction and a smooth transition for occupants, a further resolution of the Federal Cabinet permits DIFC participants to operate outside these physical boundaries for the first four years of the DIFC’s operation.

Dubai Law No. 9 of 2004

The Law Establishing the Dubai International Financial Centre’ is a Dubai law that recognises the financial and administrative independence of the DIFC. It establishes the various bodies, including the DFSA, that are necessary for the DIFC’s day-to-day operation.

These bodies include:

  • the DIFC Authority
  • the Dubai Financial Services Authority
  • the DIFC Judicial Authority

The Dubai Law also allows for the creation of other bodies and provides exemptions from rules or regulations otherwise applicable in the Emirate of Dubai.

Dubai Law No. 12 of 2004

‘The Law establishing the Judicial Authority at the Dubai International Financial Centre’ is a Dubai law that establishes the DIFC Courts of First Instance and Appeal and the jurisdiction of the DIFC Courts. The Dubai Law provides for the appointment of the DIFC Courts Justice, including the Chief Justice of the DIFC Courts.

The Law allows the courts to deal exclusively with all claims and disputes arising from or within the DIFC. The Law also provides for the enforcement of judgments, orders and awards made by the DIFC Courts. The Law gives the Chief Justice the responsibility for administering the courts and any other circuits or divisions that are established.

Dubai Law No. 12 of 2004, as amended

The amended law incorporates all the changes effected by Dubai Law No. 16 of 2011 and reflects the provisions of Law No. 12 which remain unchanged. Most significant changes introduced by Law No. 16 include the extension of the DIFC Courts’ jurisdiction to include disputes which have no relation to the DIFC, but where the parties agree in writing to opt for the Courts jurisdiction (new Article 5A (2)), and the introduction of revised procedures for the execution of the Courts’ judgments, decisions and orders (new Article 7).

DIFC Law 10 of 2004 – DIFC Courts Law

The DIFC Courts Law provides for the independent administration of Justice in the DIFC in accordance with Dubai Laws 9 of 2004 and 12 of 2004.

The DIFC Courts Law allows for the appointment of Judges to the DIFC Courts and vests the management of the administrative affairs of the DIFC Courts with the Chief Justice of the Courts. The Law provides that the DIFC Courts will receive funding from the Government of Dubai for the management of the DIFC Courts’ administrative affairs.

The Laws set out the jurisdiction of the DIFC Courts (including issues relating to the jurisdiction of the Courts) and the Practice and Procedures that the Court will apply (on issues such as judgments, order, costs and evidence).


The DIFC Courts was established under two laws enacted by the late Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the then Ruler of Dubai. Dubai Law No. 12 of 2004 (as amended by Dubai Law No. 16 of 2011 –click here to read Law 12 of 2004 as amended) established the DIFC Courts, describes the jurisdiction of the Courts and provides for the independent administration of justice in the DIFC. DIFC Law No: 10 of 2004 sets out the powers, procedures, functions and administration of the DIFC Courts.

Independent, but complimentary to the UAE’s Arab language, civil law system, and located at the core of Dubai’s financial powerhouse, the DIFC Courts administer a unique common law, English language jurisdiction, which governs commercial and civil disputes, national, regionally, and worldwide.

Local UAE lawyers, international law firms and lawyers, and companies, can best use the DIFC Courts by ensuring that they write the court’s jurisdiction into their contracts for dispute resolution.

The laws establishing the DIFC Courts were designed to ensure the highest international standards of legal procedure thus ensuring that the DIFC Courts provide the certainty, flexibility and efficiency expected by the global institutions operating in, with and from Dubai and the UAE.

The laws enacted provide for a Courts system capable of resolving all civil and commercial disputes, ranging from sophisticated, international financial transactions to debt collection and employment disputes. The DIFC Courts deals exclusively with all cases and claims arising out of the DIFC and its operations, and any other claims in which all parties agree in writing to use the DIFC Courts.


The DIFC Courts performs functions in an independent manner, in accordance with the provisions of the DIFC laws and regulations.

The DIFC laws allow for any institution operating within the DIFC to select a legal jurisdiction of its choice, other than the DIFC, when entering into contracts. However, in the event that parties do not do so, the DIFC laws will be applicable by default and they can file a case in the DIFC Courts.

The DIFC Courts has jurisdiction over civil and commercial matters only. The DIFC Courts does not have jurisdiction over criminal matters. All criminal matters are referred to the appropriate external authority.