Sir Anthony Evans has the looks, the persona and the easy smile of a favourite uncle. Yet beneath the white, slightly wavy hair and the avuncular manner is "a legal brain as sharp as you are likely to find anywhere in the world," a barrister in London has said. Sir Anthony is likely to need every bit of that grey matter as he rises to his latest challenge. He is chairman of a special tribunal set up to deal with financial claims arising from the financial woes of Dubai World.
Nervous stock markets around the world had been looking to see how Dubai would handle the group's huge debts. After Abu Dhabi weighed in with US$10 billion (Dh36.73bn) on Monday, Sir Anthony got the call to sort out the nuts and bolts. It was scarcely surprising. For the past five years, he has been the chief justice of the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) court system, a unique experiment in international jurisprudence where a separate legal network based on English common law works inside the host emirate's framework.
Sir Anthony seemed a natural for the choice. Now 75 years old and showing no sign of slowing down, he has spent a lifetime immersed in law since he graduated with a master's degree from Cambridge University in 1960. Although his work as a barrister until 1984 had been in undertaking criminal work, including practising in Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and the US, his principal specialisation was always commercial and maritime law, making many appearances as an arbitrator and as counsel at arbitration hearings.
"He has always had a straightforward, common-sense approach," a fellow arbitration specialist says. "His simple message to others in the profession has always been: 'Negotiate a settlement'." Appointed a Queen's Counsel in 1971, Sir Anthony was made a High Court judge in England 13 years later. Between 1992 and his theoretical retirement in 2000, he served as an appeals judge in London. It was not much a retirement, though, for the native of Monmouthshire in Wales. Aside from being in demand as a guest speaker at legal conferences around the world, , he headed Britain's Data Protection Tribunal National Security Appeals Panel between 2000 and 2004.
In between, in 2003, he was appointed Justice of the Court of Appeal for Bermuda. As a keen sailor and member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, Sir Anthony had his leg pulled about his reasons for taking up the job in Bermuda - a post he still holds - much as he did when he accepted the ground-breaking role in Dubai in 2005. But he found the challenge of heading up the DIFC court one that he could not resist. The 110-acre centre "was just a fenced-in patch of desert when I first came here," he told The National earlier this year. "It's incredible how it's all come up in such a short time."
The brief of the court is to deal "exclusively with all cases and claims arising out of the DIFC and its operations". Sir Anthony says: "It is unique in the world. There is nowhere else in the world where you have a special legal system set up for a part of your country." The progress that the DIFC court has made - spawning a small claims system, a code of practice for lawyers operating there and creating the nucleus of a system that could develop into a major, regional arbitration system - is being studied across the world.
"We want to evolve as a common law court alongside the local civil courts," he says. "It would be of mutual benefit if we can make common law procedures operate in harmony with local civil law courts." Interviewed in last summer, Sir Anthony said that there were "clear, even fundamental differences between the civil law and the common law, and between them and rules derived from Sharia principles".
But he added: "This does not make them mutually exclusive, even within the same national system, and it is likely that in civil and commercial cases it will emerge that they have the same objective - to secure a fair, just and efficient resolution of the parties' dispute. "It can also be recognised that other out-of-court procedures, including negotiation, mediation and arbitration, may in some cases be more appropriate than litigation in the public eye."
He believes that the DIFC court in Dubai "will merge into the legal scenery of the Gulf region, as the regional economy grows and the financial centres flourish in both countries". For now, though, Sir Anthony's profile is scarcely merging into the legal scenery as he takes on the new role of trying to sort out the mess surrounding Dubai World. The other two members of the tribunal will be Michael Hwang, Deputy Chief Justice of the DIFC Courts and a former Judicial Commissioner of the Supreme Court of Singapore; and Sir John Chadwick, Judge of the DIFC Courts, a former appeal judge in England and a world renowned specialist in bankruptcy and insolvency.