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DIFC Courts Release 2023 Annual Report

The DIFC Courts have released their 2023 Annual Report containing a round-up of the Courts’ work in 2023.

The DIFC Courts are English language courts that apply language that apply  with exclusive jurisdiction in the DIFC, a financial free zone in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. They were the first of the common law courts established in the Gulf (essentially applying a version of English law and operating in the English language), and were followed by the courts of the Abu Dhabi Global Market in the UAE’s capital and the Qatar Financial Centre, Doha.

The report shows that the DIFC Courts remain busy, with an increasing number of cases being managed and more practitioners being registered. Key points from the 2023 Annual Report include:

Dispute resolution statistics

  • Almost a thousand claims were filed across the whole DIFC Courts.
  • The total value of claims and counterclaims across all divisions of the DIFC Courts (including the specialist Arbitration, Technology and Construction and Digital Assets Divisions) was over AED 16.5 billion (around USD 4.5 billion / GBP 3.6 billion), with an average case value of AED 228.8 million for cases filed with the Court of First Instance (broadly equivalent to the English County and High Courts).
  • Over AED 3 billion of claims and counterclaims were filed in 87 cases before the Civil and Commercial Division.
  • Over AED 13.3 billion of claims and counterclaims were filed with the Arbitration Division. 
  • Almost AED 45 million of claims and counterclaims were filed in the specialist Technology & Construction Division. 
  • 522 cases were recorded with the DIFC Small Claims Tribunal (similar to the English Employment Tribunal), an 11% increase over 2022; the average SCT claim was AED 104,721. 
  • 325 enforcement claims were filed in the Courts across all divisions, over a fifth more than the previous year. 

Key legal developments

  • Two new judges were sworn in: Justice Andrew Moran (England) and Rene Le Miere (Australia).
  • Notable decisions published in 2023 included the unsuccessful jurisdiction challenge in Abraaj Investment Management Limited (in official liquidation) and another v KPMG Lower Gulf Limited and others [2021] DIFC CFI 041, and the Sandra Holdings decision in which the DIFC Court of Appeal set aside a worldwide freezing order issued by the Court of First Instance on the basis that it did not have the jurisdiction to grant the order against parties wholly unconnected to the DIFC. This decision may be reconsidered in a further Court of Appeal hearing in 2025.
  • As the Chief Justice noted in his foreword to the Report, in recent years the DIFC Courts heard one of the first cryptocurrency litigation disputes in the region and one of the few reported such cases anywhere in the world. Charles Russell Speechlys LLP acts for the claimants in that dispute (Huobi v Tabarak and another), whose appeal before the DIFC Court of Appeal was heard in January 2024 (the judgment is awaited at the time of writing). 
  • The Courts formed partnership agreements with a number of organisations including the Umm Al Quwain Fee Trade Zone, the Dubai Chambers of Commerce and the Ras Al Khaimah Digital Assets Oasis to improve access to the Courts and particularly their digital assets disputes offering. 
  • A record 1505 Wills were registered with the Wills & Probate Registry, 26% more than in 2022, and the highest annual number of Probate applications were made (28). These rises follow the launch in 2022 of the Courts’ “tejouri” platform, which facilitates the uploading and secure storage of documents including insurance contracts, title deeds, Wills and financial certificates. 

Practice developments

  • The Courts issued two Practical Guidance Notes in 2023 to assist court users and practitioners. PGN 1 concerned the Courts’ virtual hearing and document bundling protocol, building on measures in place since 2017 and developed during the Covid-19 pandemic, when the Courts operated remotely at all times. PGN 2 cover the use of large language models (LLMs) and generative artificial intelligence (so-called generative content generators; GCGs) software in proceedings. The DIFC Courts have led the way in permitting AI tools in dispute resolution, provided that users verify the accuracy and reliability of AI-generated content; disclose their intention to use AI at an early stage in proceedings; select the most appropriate GCG for their purposes; educate their clients; and protect client confidentiality and comply with legal obligations.
  • 99% of hearings in the DIFC Courts were heard online in 2023. This percentage will fall as more trials are being heard in-person (Charles Russell Speechlys LLP acted for the claimant in the longest in-person trial in the new DIFC Courts in February and March 2024, lasting two weeks). 
  • The Courts have confirmed that they are fully paperless, with all internal processes and customer-facing services now operating fully digitally. 
  • The number of legal practitioners registered before the Courts reached a high of 895, as did the number of registered law firms (187). 
  • Changes in Court fees were published in the revised Court Fees Guide; Registrar’s Direction No. 1 of 2023 provided increased standard hourly charge-out rates for guidance purposes in the assessment of costs.

 

In all, the DIFC Courts had a busy year. Their use grew in a number of key ways, and the Courts continued to respond to novel developments in technology, most notably in Practice Guidance Note on artificial technology.  

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