DIFC Courts

17 April 2007

Your Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), Chairman and CEO of Emirates Group and Deputy Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council. Your Excellency Dr. Omar Bin Sulaiman, Governor of the DIFC and distinguished guests.

Two thousand years ago, the Roman poet Horace wrote these famous words – “If you seek a monument, look around you”. He was speaking of the past, and he used ‘monument’ in the sense of ‘memorial’. Today, in this setting it is appropriate to speak of the present and above all of the future. So I venture to adopt his words but in a different sense. Look around you, and you see this state-of the-art Courtroom; the stunning development which is the DIFC; and the thriving metropolis which is modern Dubai. All this is a tribute to the vision and achievement of those who have realised the concept of Dubai as an international financial centre, and we now look forward with confidence towards a prosperous future.

Your Highness, we are privileged and greatly honoured by your presence today. I thank you for unveiling the plaque which records the formal Opening of the Courts, and I welcome you to this Courtroom.

Your Excellency, Dr. Omar bin Sulaiman, I can say from my own knowledge that by your dedication and inspired leadership over the past two years you have steered the project towards even greater success than its founders can have contemplated. The quality of this Courtroom and of the whole Justice Centre is largely due to the personal interest you have taken in its construction, as well the skills of the construction workers, and craftsmen who have completed it under your direction. Let me take this opportunity to thank you for the unstinting support you have given to the Courts, just one of your many responsibilities.

Although this is the formal Opening of the Courtroom and in that sense the beginning of our story, the Court in fact has been sitting regularly since October 2005.Cases and applications have been heard, judgments given and Orders published. So this is not the starting line, rather it is the first milestone, and I am proud to report that we are in good shape and progressing well.

The Courts staff is already an efficient team under the leadership, first, of John Watherston CBE – formerly the Registrar of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London – and of Sunita Johar. She joined us as Courts Administrator in 2005 and since November last year she has been a huge success as Acting Registrar.

There is a Register of Practitioners which any lawyer qualified to practise in his or her own country may apply to join; and a Courts Users Committee which has already made a major contribution for which we are grateful.

Today, three strands of our development come together. Each contributes to the strength of our ambitions and our confidence for the future. First there is this modern Courtroom. Secondly, we now have our own Rules of Court – the RDC, Rules of DIFC Courts – based on the Civil Procedure Rules which govern proceedings in the Commercial Court in London but specially drafted for this Court by distinguished English Counsel. Thirdly, by the appointment of a permanent full-time Registrar. He will live here and become the public face of the Courts throughout the whole of this Region. This will add to the historic importance of Dubai as a regional and now an international trading centre.

These are the Court’s ambitions for the future. The judges will discharge their duties independently and fearlessly. We shall aim to provide a Court where businessmen feel that their problems are understood and their disputes, whenever litigation becomes necessary, are dealt with efficiently and resolved impartially by experienced and knowledgeable judges. I hope that the Court will build up a reputation for being workmanlike as well as wise.

So I come to our Judges, and it is right to leave them, or rather us, until last. All good judges know that the Bench is only part of the Courtroom furniture and the judge plays only one of the forensic roles. A sufficient number of judges will be appointed to ensure not only that regular sittings can be held but also that all urgent cases and applications will be heard promptly.

The two Senior Judicial Officers are both former Dubai judges. They are Omar Al Mahairi and Ali Al Madhani. With their local knowledge and experience, they have an important part to play in the future development of the Court.

My deputy is Michael Hwang SC an internationally respected lawyer and former judge from Singapore. I would like to pay tribute to him for the contribution he has made and for his unfailing support throughout the past two years.

Today our guest of honour is Justice Andrew Li, the Chief Justice of Hong Kong. He has immense experience as the senior judge in one of the major financial centres of the world, where the common law is applied in an increasingly international context. He is President of the Final Court of Appeal in Hong Kong, a Court which already after only one decade enjoys a formidable international reputation. Noone could be better qualified by his judicial experience and personal authority to address the Court on this inaugural occasion. I cordially invite him to do so.

The Lord Mayor of London and Lord Woolf of Barnes

During recent weeks a number of distinguished visitors has come to the Courts, including two whom we were particularly pleased to welcome. In January, Lord Woolf of Barnes, the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales who is now President of our sister Court at the Qatar Financial Centre, made a private visit, and in February the Lord Mayor of London, Mr. Robin Stuttard, accompanied by Sheriff Robert Regan and leading representatives of the City of London, made a formal visit and took part in proceedings here by means of a closed circuit television link with my Chambers in London. This equipment enables the Court to see and hear a witness or an advocate or even a judge who cannot be in Dubai. Today, Lord Woolf will make what I believe is called a virtual appearance in the Courtroom.

I need introduce him only briefly. He greatly distinguished the high judicial offices which he has held in the United Kingdom, and he is renowned and respected as a judge and jurist world-wide. With the greatest pleasure I welcome him and invite him to address us now.