x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

DIFC Courts fund established to aid needy litigants

The DIFC Courts are setting up a pro bono fund to help cash-strapped litigants press their cases.

The court system in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) has set up a fund to help cash-strapped litigants press their cases.

The fund follows the establishment two years ago of a pro bono programme under which 20 local and international law firms agreed to represent people who could not afford lawyers. The fund is to be filled with legal costs awarded in successful pro bono cases.

"The DIFC Courts were founded with the vision of being as accessible as possible to the community," said Michael Hwang, the chief justice of the DIFC Courts. The fund would "help improve access to justice for people that may not have had the resources to pursue a case otherwise", he said.

The DIFC Courts pro bono programme has been used three times so far - once for a legal consultation and twice for full representation before the courts.

In deciding whether to approve pro bono representation, the courts consider the nature of the case and the financial need of the litigant.

The programme was "vital to supporting access to justice", said Ghada Audi, the manager of judicial support and communications at the courts.

The pro bono fund is currently empty, but court officials say money that builds up in it could be used to support legal research and a clinic where a lawyer would be available for consultations with members of the DIFC community at set hours.

The number of cases in the DIFC's courts has ballooned after the financial crisis, thrusting the relatively young common law-based system into the spotlight.

Last year, 27 cases came before the court of first instance and 81 were filed with the small-claims tribunal. There were two appeals, 27 enforcement cases and two arbitration cases.

The DIFC Courts are also handling cases brought against Dubai World, the government-owned conglomerate that completed a US$24.9 billion (Dh91.4bn) debt restructuring this year. The Dubai World Tribunal has held more than 40 new cases this year alone.

The DIFC Courts pro bono programme is the only one in the Gulf. Many law firms have signed up for it, including local heavyweights such as Hadef & Partners and Al Tamimi, and international firms such as DLA Piper, Norton Rose and Dewey & LeBoeuf.