Courting confidence

DIFC Courts has built a reputation across the globe for the speedy and efficient resolution of commercial disputes. Vision speaks to Chief Justice Michael Hwang to find out how they do it

How important has Dubai International Financial Courts been in creating confidence among international companies about doing business in the region?

Over the last decade, the development of the DIFC Courts and Dubai Courts, alongside the world class DIFC LCIA arbitration centre, has seen Dubai emerge as an internationally recognised centre of legal excellence, and a key component of the global system for resolving commercial disputes. This has certainly given confidence to businesses, both local and international, that Dubai is a place where courts will enforce a dishonoured contract, which is absolutely essential for creating a pro-business climate.

Can you describe the scope of the DIFC Courts’ jurisdiction and who is able to seek legal recourse there?

The DIFC Courts were originally established to hear cases relating to the DIFC only, and we still retain jurisdiction over the free zone. However, in October 2011, the jurisdiction of the DIFC Courts was extended so that any business worldwide can choose to opt-in to our jurisdiction, simply by adding the appropriate clause in a contract. This has proved to be an increasingly popular option for companies, with virtually all of the cases before our Court of First Instance international now in nature. Given the internationalisation of our work, we have prioritised formalising relationships with other court systems worldwide. Through agreements covering the mutual enforcement of money judgements with key courts like the Commercial Court of England and Wales and the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, we have be able to establish one of the world’s strongest enforcement regimes.

The majority of small claims filed at the Courts are settled in three weeks or less. In addition to speed, what other benefits do the DIFC Courts bring to businesses operating in the region? 

As a common law jurisdiction with all of our proceedings in English, the DIFC Courts will be instantly familiar to any international businessperson. If they ever need to use our services, they will also find us to be exceptionally efficient, service-orientated, and able to draw upon a bench of world-class judges who have earned the trust and respect of the international community. It is attributes such as these that have helped the DIFC Courts become the Middle East’s established hub for international commercial dispute resolution, enforcement and innovation.

Since the opening of DIFC Courts, what particular events stand out in your mind as having cemented its reputation?

The DIFC Courts are associated with firsts. To name just a few, we were the first English language, common law court in the region. We created the first pro-bono clinic to give access to free legal advice to those who cannot afford a lawyer. We implemented the region’s first e-filing system. We started the region’s first “smart court,” with parties able to participate in proceedings from anywhere in the world. So I would not point to a single event as having cemented our reputation, but would instead say they we have earned our reputation as the region’s preeminent commercial court through a decade of consistent innovation and excellence.

In what ways will the new MoU signed with Shanghai Courts ease the passage of business between China and Dubai?  

Given the strength of trade ties between the UAE and China, the DIFC Courts have made forging links with our counterparts in the world’s second largest economy a strategic priority in recent years. We have now reached the stage where we can formalise these relationships and work together to make a significant contribution to the Dubai-China relationship in relation to judicial matters. This agreement is designed to reinforce commercial links between the two cities by bringing certainty to businesses through enabling them to trade securely.

How do you approach the Belt and Road initiative from a legal standpoint? How important will the cooperation between DIFC Courts and Shanghai Courts be in facilitating the initiative’s progress?

Establishing formal links between commercial courts in general, and understanding how each will interpret the other’s money judgments in particular, are an absolutely essential catalyst for boosting trade between countries. This agreement is an important first step and is something we look forward to building on over the coming months and years to ensure that any business operating between China and the UAE can have completely certainty that a dishonoured contract will be enforced.   

What topics are you looking forward to exploring in further depth during Dubai Week in China? 

Dubai Week in China comes at a hugely exciting time in relations between the two. I am particularly interested in how the UAE and China will collaborate on new innovations, for instance to further Dubai’s ambition to be the world’s first truly smart city. The agreement between the DIFC Courts and the Shanghai High People’s Court is designed to foster innovation in the legal space, and I look forward to hearing about other collaborations during Dubai Week in China that have similar objectives at their core.