With the jurisdiction of the DIFC courts now encompassing a far broader scope, those planning on taking their cases there should know what they can expect.
DIFC Courts claimants should be in the know
The jurisdiction of Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts recently has been expanded to include entities not located in the DIFC. Robert Jordan, a partner in charge of the Middle East practice of the international law firm Baker Botts, gives a few tips to prospective claimants.
q: How do the DIFC Courts work?
a: First, be aware of the basic structure of the DIFC Courts and procedures for filing a claim. The DIFC Courts are composed of a Court of First Instance, Court of Appeal and Small Claims Tribunal (SCT). Claims filed at first instance will be heard by a single judge of the Court of First Instance. Following the expansion of jurisdiction of the DIFC Courts, the Court of First Instance judge can now hear claims in respect of contracts with no connection to the DIFC, if the parties to the contract have agreed in writing. If a dispute has already arisen, parties can agree to have such a dispute determined by the DIFC Courts.
q: How do I file a claim?
a: On forms provided by the DIFC Courts, claimants need to provide certain standard information, including full details of the parties and a statement about the nature of the claim and the amount that the claimant expects to recover. The court proceedings start when the court issues a claim form at the request of the claimant. An important function of the court is to actively manage the timetabling and other practical issues of the case to ensure that the process keeps moving forward efficiently.
q: What happens when a judgement has been issued by the Court of First Instance?
a: A party can appeal the judgement on the grounds that it was wrong or that there was some procedural or other irregularity. The appeal would then be heard by the Court of Appeal, composed of three judges with exclusive jurisdiction over appeals filed against judgements and decisions made by the Court of First Instance. The decision of the Court of Appeal is final.
q: What about small claims?
a: The SCT has jurisdiction to hear claims where the amount in controversy is less than Dh100,000 (US$27,222) and, if all parties agree in writing, claims up to Dh500,000 (for non-employment cases). The SCT can hear employment cases of any amount if the parties have agreed to use the SCT. Claimants can lodge a claim before the SCT by completing the relevant claim form, stating the monetary value of the claim and the remedy they are seeking. Lawyers are not permitted to represent any of the parties before the SCT unless a tribunal judge decides otherwise. Both parties have to attend a consultation; if the dispute is not settled at the consultation, the matter may be transferred to the Court of First Instance. According to the DIFC Courts Annual Review of last year, 90 per cent of disputes before the SCT were resolved within three weeks, which is a remarkable achievement given the normal length of time involved in court proceedings. This success may be due to the low filing fees and swifter service that the SCT offers.
q: How is a DIFC Court judgement enforced in Dubai and the wider region?
a: Both the Dubai and DIFC Courts have traditionally worked in harmony to provide the best standard of legal service for the community and to recognise and enforce each other's judgements. Pursuant to a Protocol of Enforcement entered into by the DIFC and Dubai Courts, enforcement judges from both courts do not have jurisdiction to review the merits of judgements issued by the other, but have to merely enforce the judgements in accordance with the applicable procedural rules. There is a strong track record of cooperation between these courts.
(Robert Jordan is a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The author wishes to thank his colleague, Natasha Zahid, for her assistance in preparing this article. The summary information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice and the reader is urged to consult with a legal adviser before undertaking any of the proceedings described above).