Dubai, United Arab Emirates; 9 February 2023: The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts today released its annual figures for the full year of 2022, with total a volume of 861 cases across all divisions, a 15% increase from 2021.
His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of the UAE, and President of the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), affirmed that the DIFC Courts strategy is inspired by the vision of Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai to set new standards in settling judicial disputes and consolidate our global financial position according to Agenda D33.
His Highness also added: “We are committed to the continuous development of the DIFC Courts in a way that enhances the operational environment and the legal and regulatory frameworks that ensure providing the best level of services to major international financial companies. We are working to align the Courts' strategy with the objectives of the Dubai Economic Agenda (D33) in order to position Dubai as one of the most important and best financial centres regionally and globally.”
In 2022, the main Court of First Instance (CFI) recorded 121 cases, with a total case value of AED 4.4 billion, marking a year-on-year increase of 16%. An average case value of AED 58.3 million was recorded across CFI cases, a 25% increase from 2021. Cases related to the Arbitration Division of the DIFC Courts recorded the most substantial rise in 2022; the total value of cases was AED 1.2 billion, marking an increase of over 700%, with the average case value recorded at AED 94 million.
Cases brought before the CFI covered a range of sectors including banking and finance, real estate, retail, manufacturing, hospitality, and involved disputes related to breach of contract, insolvency, arbitration agreements, and employment. A noticeable increase in the number of ‘opt-in’ cases was recorded in 2022, with 60% of claims in the CFI originating from parties electing to use the DIFC Courts to resolve their disputes.
The Small Claims Tribunal (SCT) recorded 472 cases in 2022, an increase of 31% compared with 2021, with 59% of claims in the SCT originating from parties electing to use the DIFC Courts to resolve their disputes.
Cases were driven primarily by breach of contract, which represented 49.4% of all cases in 2022, followed property and tenancy (29.4%), employment (20.6%), and banking & finance (0.6%). Underlining the SCT’s increasing popularity for SME-related dispute resolution, the total value of claims recorded in 2022 was AED 43.2 million, an increase of 17% compared with the same period in 2021. The average case value recorded at the SCT for 2022 was AED 95,000.
The DIFC Courts launched a new roadmap for the years 2022-2024, which included a strategic work plan that brings more national cohesion to the Courts' projects and initiatives, in order to provide effective support for the federal and local strategic goals and the Centre's goals.
The DIFC Courts Strategic Work Plan adopts end-to-end digital technology, ensuring court systems are smart, user-friendly, and agile enough to keep pace with global commerce. Innovative implementations will bridge barriers of language, borders, jurisdiction, and currency. AI will reduce clerical burdens, help streamline the case review methodology, create a realistic virtual presence, remove document duplications, and unlock time to take on significantly more complex tasks.
Zaki Azmi, Chief Justice, DIFC Courts, said: “In 2022, the DIFC Courts not only recorded significant increases in caseloads, but also engineered the launch of new core operational services for the public. The DIFC Courts has an integral role to fulfil with supporting the DIFC and Dubai’s status as a leading financial centre. Rule of law, including commercial dispute resolution, is a major driver of economic growth. Reliable, fast, and transparent commercial dispute resolution is a key decision-making factor for international investors, creating a competitive advantage for countries that have efficient and transparent systems in place.”
INNOVATION AND FUTURE DISPUTES
In 2022, the DIFC Courts confirmed the launch of new specialised Rules for its Digital Economy Court (DEC) Division. The Rules facilitate the efficient and modern resolution of digital economy disputes, standardising the use of smart forms to provide information through a dynamic, artificial intelligence driven platform.
In addition, the DIFC Courts also issued a judgment in one of the first cryptocurrency litigation disputes in the region and one of the few reported cases anywhere in the world which addresses issues such as the safe transfer of cryptocurrency between buyer and seller and the obligations owed by a custodian of cryptocurrency. This case gave rise to various other interesting questions such as the nature of Bitcoins, i.e., whether cryptocurrencies are considered commodities, currencies, properties, or something entirely different, and the appropriate time to value Bitcoins.
His Excellency Justice Omar Al Mheiri, Director, DIFC Courts, said: “We continue to demonstrate year-on-year growth in our service offerings and operational capacity as a UAE Court. The concept of quality and excellence are no longer associated with the private sector. In fact, there are increased societal expectations for Courts to adapt to the changing expectations and behaviour of court users. Increased digital platforms, paperless processes and virtual hearings are all now becoming the new reality.
Expectations from the private sector increasingly require the bold engagement of public service. By combining a modern and flexible digital infrastructure with judicial and service excellence, the DIFC Courts will continue to align our operations with the national agenda. As the UAE begins to nurture new digital economy verticals, the number of foreign organisations entering the market will inevitably increase. The DIFC Courts has a part to play with assuring these businesses that we remain on standby to resolve new types of cases and disputes.”
EXPANSION OF GLOBAL DIGITAL SERVICES
In 2022, the Court Tech Lab initiative was activated, with companies entering a competition in conjunction with Dubai Future Foundation’s Accelerator Programme in Area 2071. In exploring how judicial systems can be strengthened through technology, the Court Tech Lab unites individuals and companies helping to prototype and launch the advancement of court-based technology. Phase II of the Court Tech Lab initiative was concluded, with the project R&D programme launched to position Dubai as the city that pioneers new industry-specific technologies.
Phase II involved a prototyping stage for two finalists, where they received financial support, as well as access to the DIFC Courts to research, test and adapt the technology solutions. The finalists were FaceKi from Bahrain and CourtCorrect from the UK, who provided solutions across AI and facial-recognition technologies.
In 2022, the DIFC Courts launched a global digital vault engineered to help address issues of storage and security of documents and to enable individuals to now transfer this data to one secure location. ‘tejouri’ enables the upload and secure storing of documents ranging from insurance contracts, title deeds, Wills, and financial certificates, to images and multimedia files and can be utilised by all individuals globally.
All uploaded life admin files will be secured under the highest standards of security regulation, using multiple factors of authentication, encrypted data, personalised biometric information, and safe-keeping ledgers through advanced cryptography. Using Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), the vault also ensures the transmission of your entire portfolio to your designated stakeholders, or loved ones, at a key time.
Statistics confirm that the DIFC Courts is not only maintaining all services, but is simultaneously increasing operational efficiency, substantially increasing digital Orders & Judgments, issuing over 1,500 in digital format in 2022, as well as over 95% of hearings conducted remotely.
This 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.
The full DIFC Courts Annual Report 2022 can be viewed at: https://www.difccourts.ae/media-centre/publications/annual-reports/annual-report-2022-english