Dubai – MENA Herald: Following a record breaking year in which they cemented their position as the pre-eminent centre for English language dispute resolution in the Middle East, the DIFC Courts today set out an ambitious plan to be among the world’s leading commercial courts by 2021.

In 2015, the Court of First Instance (CFI) at Dubai’s established English-language, commercial common law judicial system handled cases, including Arbitration related cases and counter claims, valued at approximately AED4.46 billion, a total greater than in 2012, 2013 and 2014 combined. The figure, which compares with AED1.55billion in 2014, is also the first time the courts have passed the US$1 billion mark in a year.

The significant rise in case value reflects both a rise in the total number of cases heard by the CFI, which went up by 9 percent in 2015, and a more significant increase in the size and complexity of cases. The average CFI case value in 2015, excluding arbitration related cases and counter claims, was AED89 million, compared to AED51.1 million in the preceding year, while almost all were international disputes.

It was a particularly busy year for the Courts’ Small Claims Tribunal (SCT), with its workload almost doubling from 116 cases in 2014 to 216 in the following year, reflecting a greater willingness to use this innovative, private, swift and low cost way to resolve disputes amicably, where 90% of all cases are resolved within four weeks. Increasing the SCT’s jurisdiction to handle cases up to AED500,000 also contributed to its growing popularity and ability to support the UAE’s SME sector.

2015 witnessed a number of innovations, including a new fee structure incentivising parties to settle early by rebating court fees, and a system for arranging business visit visas for overseas lawyers. Most notable was the introduction of a world first practice direction whereby a DIFC Courts’ judgment can result in the judgment creditor obtaining an arbitral award which can be enforced in over 150 countries, providing greater enforcement internationally.

International enforcement mechanisms were further strengthened by a string of memoranda in 2015, including with two of the most important commercial courts in the world, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and the Supreme Court of Singapore.

Mark Beer, DIFC Courts CEO & Registrar, said: “2015 was a year of innovation and collaboration for the DIFC Courts as we forged strong ties with other judicial entities in the UAE’s main trading partners while introducing world firsts that further enhanced our legal processes. Through a consistent track record of success in commercial dispute resolution, innovation and enforcement, the DIFC Courts are today recognised as a world class centre of legal excellence. Looking to the future, while we are firmly established as the the pre-eminent centre for English language dispute resolution in the Middle East, it is our aspiration to be one of the world’s leading commercial courts within five years. It is an ambitious but entirely achievable objective for the DIFC Courts team.”

The DIFC Courts also today released their 2016-2021 Strategic Plan, which has been developed to actively support federal, local and DIFC strategic objectives, including Dubai Plan 2021 and UAE Vision 2021.

The plan sets out how the DIFC Courts aim to fulfil their aspiration of being one of the world’s leading commercial courts by 2021 by focusing on four key qualities. First, through innovation and continuing to set regional and international firsts, such as the conversion of judgments into arbitral awards. Second, through judicial excellence and offering a uniquely international and experienced bench of judges able to deal with the most complex transnational disputes. Third, through service excellence and delivering court excellence through the implementation of benchmark local and global standards. Fourth, through connectivity and building the world’s strongest enforcement regime via formal and informal agreements with other Common Law jurisdictions.

Specific strategic objectives outlined in the five-year Strategic Plan include continuing to synthesise the best from litigation, arbitration and mediation to provide a new, more modern set of procedures for resolving disputes. The DIFC Courts will also strive to maintain their position as one of the world’s most technologically advanced commercial courts, as well as continue to create an empowering environment for Emiratis seeking a career in the judiciary, provide consultancy to other jurisdictions and systems around the world, and seek membership of, and accreditation by, leading international quality assurance organisations.

Amna AlOwais, Deputy CEO and Deputy Registrar of the DIFC Courts, added: “The performance of the DIFC Courts in 2015 serves as an important reminder that Dubai is a place where a contract will be honoured a dispute settled fairly, quickly and efficiently, all essential ingredients for creating a pro-business environment. We look forwards to building on these achievements over the next five years to help make the UAE one of the best places in the world to do business and, in doing so, the DIFC Courts one of the world’s leadings commercial courts.”

The DIFC Courts’ international standing was highlighted by a 2015 survey from an international law firm which showed that for Middle East Mergers & Acquisitions contracts which chose litigation to resolve any disputes, the DIFC Courts were the chosen forum in 29% of contracts, a 38% increase on the same survey undertaken in 2012.