Nakheel, the developer behind the Palm Jumeirah, yesterday demanded a retrial in a Dh57 million (US$15.5m) case in the Dubai World Tribunal as it accused one of the judges of falling asleep during legal proceedings.
Chief Justice Michael Hwang was accused yesterday by Nakheel of nodding off for six minutes at a hearing on May 9 in a dispute between the developer and Shokat Mohammad Dalal, an investor in The World project.
David Thomas QC, barrister for Nakheel, argued at the tribunal that anything short of a retrial of the case would "damage" public confidence in the judicial system in Dubai and would be "unfair" to all parties.
Nakheel also asserted that the judge had been drowsy for about 40 minutes leading up the period he was asleep.
Sir Anthony Evans, Chief Justice of the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts and chairman of the Dubai World Tribunal, conceded that there had been a "breach of duty" and that Judge Hwang gave the impression of being inattentive.
But he dismissed Nakheel's claims on the grounds that the evidence in the six-minute period that the judge was inattentive was not relevant to the case.
"The question which the tribunal has to ask itself is [would] a fair-minded person consider that the only appropriate response to the complaint made is to order a retrial?" he said.
Sir Anthony said that was not the case and that the tribunal had dismissed the Nakheel complaint because a full transcript of the hearing was available to Chief Justice Hwang, including a video, and that Clifford Chance, the international law firm acting for Nakheel, was aware of the incident the morning after it had taken place, but delayed its complaint.
The incident took place at a hearing on May 9 and the trial continued the next day.
Clifford Chance requested a video of the proceedings 11 days later and made an application for a retrial 25 days after the incident, when the law firm was instructed by the Nakheel board to do so.
Sir Anthony eventually said Nakheel's claim was "mischievous" and without "merit whatsoever". He ordered Nakheel to pay the defendant's costs for the hearing.
"Common sense is that the tribunal should consider all the circumstances before deciding what order is appropriate to be made," he said. "No significant evidence was given during the period in question."
Dubai World Tribunal was set up in November 2009 to oversee the restructuring of Dubai World and its subsidiary companies and its debts.
The tribunal consists of three judges, Sir Anthony, Sir John Chadwick and Judge Hwang. At least two of the judges have to sit and listen to proceedings to make a judgement.
Clifford Chance had not contacted Mr Dalal's lawyers, Davidson & Co, to let them know they were disputing the case.
"A lot of work went into preparing for the hearing within a very short timescale," said Jonathon Davidson, the managing partner for Davidson & Co. "Our client is pleased with the result and is now awaiting judgement in respect of his main case."
The trial between Nakheel and Mr Dalal will now be given a judgement by Sir John and Judge Hwang after the delay.
Sir Anthony did not sit on the hearing in the first place.
The case involves a dispute over the deposit for a purchase of three islands on The World project.
Mr Dalal paid Dh57m to Nakheel to reserve the islands, but claims the developer did not put in place the promised infrastructure, such as sewerage, desalination facilities, utilities and workmen's access to the island.
He is therefore asking for his money back.
Nakheel, on the other hand, claims that a deal had been made and Mr Dalal is required to continue a payment plan for the islands as they have been reserved and taken off the market.
A judgement on this case still has to be made by the tribunal, but a date was not set yesterday for a judgement hearing.
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