DIFC Courts
  • Total value of claims across all divisions reaches AED 6.1 billion
  • Enforcement claims total AED 2.3 billion, 108% year-on-year increase
  • New international Digital Economy Court established
  • Milestone as region’s first fully paperless Court

Dubai, United Arab Emirates; 22 February 2022: The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts today released its annual figures for the full year of 2021, with total a volume of 747 cases across all divisions.

The main Court of First Instance (CFI) recorded 147 cases, with a total case value of AED 3.8 billion and average case value of AED 46.7 million, which also includes the Technology & Construction Division (TCD) and Arbitration Division (ARB) cases.

Reinforcing the Courts’ record of certainty for business through enforceable judgments, the total value of enforcement claims filed amounted to AED 2.3 billion in 2021, an increase of 108% year-on-year, with 239 enforcement cases recorded.

Cases brought before the CFI covered a range of sectors including banking and finance, construction, technology, and real estate, and involved disputes related to breach of contract, insolvency, arbitration agreements, employment, and public international law. There was also a noticeable increase in the number of opt-in cases in 2021, with 50% of claims in the CFI originating from parties electing to use the DIFC Courts to resolve their disputes.

The Small Claims Tribunal (SCT) recorded 361 cases in 2021, with 65% 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 62% of all cases in 2021, followed by employment (22%), property and tenancy (13%), and banking & finance (3%). Underlining the SCT’s increasing popularity for SME-related dispute resolution, the total value of claims recorded in 2021 was AED 36.9 million, with an average case value of AED 106,000.

Zaki Azmi, Chief Justice, DIFC Courts, said: “We continue our mission to generate the best from litigation, arbitration, and mediation to provide a new, more modern set of procedures for resolving disputes. The DIFC Courts has led with the necessity to develop not just an institution to hear cases, but also to contribute to the style and manner in which the court user journey is synthesised. Our dedication to enhancing the user experience is strengthened by adopting smart technologies, automated processes, and state-of-the-art courtroom communications equipment. This has also played a key role in supporting the increasing international caseload.”

Awareness of the DIFC Courts services was also bolstered by cooperation agreements signed in 2021. The DIFC Courts continued to strengthen its partner ecosystem and signed several memoranda with entities across the public and private sectors, as well as with academic institutions, including, Ajman Media City Free Zone (AMCFZ), Ajman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), Emaar Properties, Dubai World Trade Centre Authority (DWTCA), Umm Al Quwain (UAQ) Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the American University in the Emirates (AUE).

His Excellency Justice Omar Al Mheiri, Director, DIFC Courts, said: “Whilst the DIFC Courts has developed a directive to absorb the maturing needs of the regional legal community, the original and purest foundational mandate still remains; to promote Dubai and the UAE’s geographic position in the Gulf as a significant strategic advantage for international investors - a gateway bridging those working in South and East Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and the western hemisphere. The reputation of DIFC Courts as a safe harbour and business gateway continues to mature. The increasingly international nature of our caseload is a clear signal that international businesses with interests in the Middle East region consider the DIFC Courts to be their first choice for dispute resolution, fulfilling the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, to establish the city as a global hub for business.”

INNOVATION AND FUTURE DISPUTES

In 2021, the DIFC Courts confirmed the launch of a new Division. The international Digital Economy Court is aimed at simplifying the settlement process of complex civil and commercial disputes related to the digital economy, reviewing national and international claims related to current and emerging technologies, including big data, blockchain, cryptocurrencies, artificial intelligence, and cloud services.

In early 2022, the new court will assign a group of international lawyers and industry experts to draft and approve new rules for the Digital Economy Court, which will then be issued after a 30-day public consultation campaign. Leading international judicial expertise is also being recruited to oversee and operate the new Court’s cutting-edge digital infrastructure and service capabilities.

On the Courts of the Future front, the DIFC Courts and the Dubai Future Foundation (DFF) embarked on a new initiative in 2021 and activated Courts of Space. The launch of the project signals to the international space community the intent of the UAE to play a leading role in advancing its judicial systems to specifically direct capacity and capability to commercial space-related disputes. Later in the year, the Courts also announced the formation of an international Working Group. Consisting of public and private sector bodies and experts, the Working Group is exploring space-related legal innovations and providing an outlook on potential outcomes of scenarios revolving around space-related disputes.

In 2021, the Court Tech Lab initiative was also activated, with companies entering a competition in conjunction with DFF’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.

In 2022, Phase 2 of our Court Tech Lab initiative will be launched, with a project built, launched, and progressed to position Dubai as the city that pioneers new industry-specific technologies. This initiative is a world first and it brings exciting new developments within the sphere of court-specific technologies and how we best deliver access to justice. By combining a modern and flexible digital infrastructure with judicial and service excellence, a new benchmark will be set for cultivating justice for global businesses.

DIGITAL INFRASTRUCTURE RESILIENCE

Statistics confirm that the DIFC Courts is not only maintaining all services, but is simultaneously increasing operational efficiency, substantially increasing digital Orders & Judgments, as well as over 95% of hearings conducted remotely. The DIFC Courts also confirmed its status as the first paperless Court in the region in 2021, with 100% of internal processes and customer-facing services now operating fully digital.

This rapid transition to fully digital remote hearings in 2021 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 before the end of 2021.

In 2021, as a way to protect court users, reinforce the security and integrity of documentation, and eradicate tampering of official documents, the DIFC Courts acquired the qualified electronic seal solution Ethaq. Through this unique partnership with Dubai Electronic Security Center (DESC) and Digital Dubai Authority (DDA), the DIFC Courts became the first UAE Court and first Dubai entity to obtain Ethaq.

Among the many technologies the courts has pioneered to re-engineer and increase access to justice, is the region’s first e-Registry in 2009, digitally integrated courtroom and state-of-the-art e-Court Management System (CMS) in 2017, as well as the region’s first ‘paperless’ e-bundling solution in 2018. Special project initiatives under the Courts of the Future have also assisted the DIFC Courts with advance R&D activities, uniting individuals and companies helping to prototype and launch the advancement of court technology, such as blockchain-powered initiatives, AI-enabled programmes and cloud-based solutions.

The full DIFC Courts Annual Report 2021 can be viewed at: https://www.difccourts.ae/media-centre/publications/annual-reports/difc-courts-annual-report-2021

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