Frequently asked questions
The UAE’s DIFC Courts administer a unique English-language common law system – offering swift, independent justice to settle local and international commercial or civil disputes. The Courts, based in Dubai, provide certainty through transparent, enforceable judgments from internationally-recognised judges, who adhere to the highest global legal standards.
DIFC Courts successful track record supports Dubai’s growing status as an international business hub while serving companies in the UAE, the GCC and worldwide.
The Dubai International Financial Centre is an onshore financial centre in the UAE. The DIFC’s strategic location, between the markets of the east and west, provides a secure and efficient platform for business and financial institutions to reach into and out of the emerging markets of the region.
The Centre offers independent regulation, supportive infrastructure and a tax-efficient regime, as well as a common law system.
Originally the DIFC Courts were established to hear cases relating to the DIFC only. In light of their success and far-reaching reputation for swift and efficient justice, the DIFC Courts’ jurisdiction was extended in October 2011. Decree no.16/2011 opened the Courts’ remit to hear:
– Any civil or commercial case in which both parties select the DIFC Courts’ jurisdiction, either in their original contracts/agreements or post- dispute
as well as
– Any civil or commercial case related to the DIFC
The DIFC Courts apply the law governing the contract in question. Otherwise, they apply the DIFC’s common law system, based predominantly on that of the United Kingdom.
No, the DIFC Courts hear matters of commercial and civil law only.
The Courts operate in the English language. All hearings are conducted in English and all documents must be submitted in English.
One of the DIFC Courts central goals has been to complement the UAE’s established Arabic-language judicial system and to provide the domestic and international business community with a choice of platforms upon which they can settle their disputes. As an English-language-only Court, we provide a speedy resolution service for disputes regarding English-language contracts.
Should the UAE leadership wish to amend the law to introduce Arabic as an operating language, we have the facilities and capabilities to respond to this. Indeed more than half of our staff are Emirati, and are therefore Arabic speakers.
DIFC Courts judgments must be enforced through the Dubai Courts, in accordance with the Federal Civil Procedures Law, provided that the procedure under the DIFC Law (Dubai Law No. 12 of 2004 as amended) is followed.
Since the coming into force of Law No. 16 of 2011, DIFC Courts’ judgments can be enforced in the other Emirates either through a Dubai execution judge or directly by the local “competent entity” within the UAE (see Article 7(2) of Law No. 16).
As a Court of the UAE, DIFC Courts’ judgments are enforceable within the GCC under the GCC Convention (1996) and throughout the Arab World under the Riyadh Convention (1983). DIFC Courts’ judgments and orders are also enforceable in France by virtue of the Paris Convention (1992), and in many other countries (including China and India) according to the domestic laws governing the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments.
DIFC Courts’ orders are regularly enforced within Dubai and vice versa. Recent examples of enforcements related to such cases in the GCC include the enforcement of a DIFC Court order in Kuwait (Global Strategies Group (Middle East) FZE v. Aqeeq Aviation Holding Company LLC) and the enforcement of a Bahraini judgment by the DIFC Courts (Farooq Al Alawi v. Lloyds TSB Bank PLC and Credit Suisse AG).
All applications can be made through the Courts’ e-Registry – an on-line, secure Courts’ back-office. Please see ‘Forms & Downloads’ on the Courts’ website for guidance and for application documents. Otherwise applications can be made at the Courts’ offices, which are in the DIFC. The Registry Office is open from 8am until 4pm, Sunday until Thursday.
Fees vary from court to court, but all are clearly documented in our Fees Schedule guide, available on the Courts’ website and from our lobby. The fees charged at the DIFC Courts reflect the investment made in the world-class, expert systems in place here. The Court’s efficiency can be measured in the faster-than-average settlement periods, driven by best-in-class technology and judicial expertise.
The DIFC Courts were one of the first judicial systems in the Middle East to implement a pro-bono (free-of-charge) programme. Since its launch in 2009, the Programme’s register has attracted the support of 30 volunteer legal practices, who offer free representation to litigants in need. The Programme has been used successfully on a number of occasions and in 2012 the scheme was extended to include a Pro Bono Clinic service (staffed by trained Dubai-registered lawyers), which operates some six times a year. Details of these clinics are published in advance on our website and via our twitter account.
The Courts require that all advocates and other users abide by the Code of Professional Conduct. The Code, which sets out a requisite standard of professional behaviour when dealing with the Courts, was first published in 2009 and has recently been updated. A copy of the Code is available on the Courts’ website.
The DIFC Courts’ bench of six international and two Emirati resident judges is led by Chief Justice Michael Hwang SC. The bench includes:
- Deputy Chief Justice Sir John Murray Chadwick
- H.E. Justice Omar Juma Al Muhairi
- H.E. Justice Ali Shamis Al Madhani
- Justice Tan Sri Siti Norma Yaakob
- Justice Sir Anthony David Colman
- Justice A R David Williams QC
- Justice Sir David Steel
The bench is supported by Small Claims Tribunal (SCT) Judge and Judicial Officer, Shamlan Al Sawaheli.
Please click here for the judges’ biographies.
Yes, DIFC Courts’ hearings are open to the public and the media. Guides on how the public (and the media) should behave at a hearing are available on the Courts’ website and in the Courts’ lobby.
Courts worldwide are notoriously burdened with paper-heavy administrative processes, but at the DIFC Courts an e-Registry platform offers web-based case management and practitioner administration, eliminating the need for paper-based applications and records.
In line with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s vision, the Courts’ are dedicated to developing national advocates. A conference to engage this community and to present the opportunities for Emirati lawyers at DIFC Courts was held in March 2012. An MOU was signed at the conference between the DIFC Courts and the Dubai Institute for Training and Judicial Studies, in which both parties outlined their commitment to training and further developing Emirati lawyers within Dubai’s English-language, common law system.
The Courts have since launched the ‘DIFC Courts’ Academy’ – a certified training programme by top international experts which has been designed for Emirati and other advocates wishing to practice in the DIFC Courts in future.
The Academy’s first course began in November 2012. This was fully subscribed and a further course has been arranged to begin in April 2013.
The Small Claims Tribunal was established on 30 October 2007 by the Chief Justice as a Tribunal of the DIFC Courts with power to hear and determine claims within the DIFC Courts’ jurisdiction. The SCT hears smaller cases than the regular Court of First Instance (CFI) and a speedy remedy can often be achieved. In fact, 90% of cases are resolved within four weeks at the Small Claims Tribunal, a track record maintained since 2009. All SCT cases are entirely confidential and lawyers are not permitted to take part.
The SCT has jurisdiction to hear claims within the jurisdiction of the DIFC where:
- The amount or value of the claim does not exceed AED 500,000; or
- The claim relates to the employment or former employment of a party and the amount or value of the claim exceeds AED 500,000 and all parties to the claim elect in writing that it be heard by the SCT. There is no value limit for the SCT’s elective jurisdiction in the context of employment claims; or
- In the context of claims which are not employment related, the amount or value of the claim does not exceed 1,000,000 AED; and all parties elect in writing that it be heard by the SCT, such election can be made in the underlying contract (if any) or subsequently.
The SCT judge retains the discretion to allow parties to be legally represented where such representation is considered appropriate.