A Common-Law Court in an Uncommon Environment: The DIFC Judiciary and Global Commercial Dispute Resolution – Vol. 25 No. 3-4

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Authors: Jayanth K. Krishnan* and Priya Purohit**

Published: April 2015

Description: A rather remarkable development – upon which surprisingly little research has focused – is occurring within a religious monarchy in the Middle East. In 2004, the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”) authorized one of its seven monarchal provinces, the Emirate of Dubai, to pass Dubai Law No. 9 creating a global, cosmopolitan business campus.1 Located within the heart of the downtown area, the “DIFC” – or Dubai International Financial Centre – was established in order to attract foreign investment and to make this emirate an international hub for commercial transactions. The government touted Dubai’s geographic position in the Gulf as a strategic advantage – a bridge for those working in South and East Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. Moreover, Dubai officials aspired to an even larger vision: to have the DIFC eventually serve as the world’s leading arena for major international business dealings.

Dubai Law No. 9 outlined that there were to be three components to the DIFC: a) an authorizing agency that would be the regulatory body overseeing employment law, corporate law, commercial law, and real estate; b) a regulatory agency that would oversee all financial matters involving the DIFC; and, most interestingly, c) the DIFC common-law courts. The DIFC courts came into existence in 2006 and for the first five years they served as an adjudicatory forum for all commercial disputes within the DIFC. In 2011, following the passage of the Dubai Law No. 16, the DIFC courts were granted jurisdiction over any commercial matter (domestic or international) so long as all parties gave consent.

This article will focus, in particular, on these DIFC courts. Dubai government leaders (and DIFC officials specifically) have promoted the DIFC courts with great enthusiasm. Western common law and legal principles, and the English language are used, in order to make the DIFC courts accessible to international legal and business professionals. Furthermore, the judges of the DIFC courts (on both the first instance court and appellate court) are internationally respected. (The current Chief Justice is Michael Hwang, an Oxford-educated former law professor, and leading Singaporean lawyer who headed the litigation and arbitration department of the firm Allen & Gledhill.) The goal is to have the DIFC judiciary be efficient, just, and legitimate. It is to serve as a haven – an accessible Western-style judicial system within a highly centralized, Arab-Gulf monarchy. The DIFC courts are a prime example of the complicated, nuanced, and even ironic ramifications that can accompany globalization today.

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*Charles L. Whistler Faculty Fellow, Professor of Law, and Director of the Center on the Global Legal Profession, Indiana University-Bloomington, Maurer School of Law.
**Research Fellow, Center on the Global Legal Profession, Indiana University-Bloomington, Maurer School of Law and Ph.D. candidate, Department of English, Indiana University-Bloomington.