The Dubai International Financial Centre (the DIFC) is a financial-free zone in the emirate of Dubai. The DIFC has its laws and courts to regulate its civil and commercial matters arising within the DIFC jurisdiction. The DIFC courts have been established under Law Number 12 of 2004 (as amended) and the DIFC Law Number 10 of 2004. These laws set forth the legal procedure and framework for the courts operating in the DIFC. The DIFC courts administer English Common Law to deal with local and international civil and commercial disputes of institutions located in the DIFC jurisdiction.
The official language of DIFC courts is English, unlike other Dubai mainland courts whose official language is Arabic. The criminal disputes arising in the DIFC are not in the jurisdiction of DIFC Courts; instead, they shall be referred to the Dubai Courts. The DIFC courts have their distinct legal personality. The courts have their separate budget allocated for the exercises of duties. The courts are empowered to interpret the DIFC laws.
Under the Dubai Law Number 9 of 2004, the DIFC Courts shall have one Chief Justice, one or more Deputy Chief Justices, who shall be competent to hold the position and shall be appointed through a decree issued by the ruler. The Chief Justice of the DIFC courts has the Administrative powers and duties to exercise; he has the authority to set up different courts, circuits and divisions. He can enter into contracts, MOAs with third parties according to DIFC laws. He can delegate his administrative powers to his deputy or any judge of the courts or the court’s registrar.
Besides the two major courts, the DIFC has other services, including small claims tribunal and specialized divisions for technology and construction and arbitration division.
The Court of First Instance cases is composed of one judge, and it has complete jurisdiction over civil and commercial disputes that arise within or from the DIFC jurisdiction. The civil and commercial disputes of the institutions operating their business in DIFC or have registered in DIFC. Disputes arising in civil or commercial contracts carried out in DIFC or any incident that occurred in the vicinity of DIFC. Entertains objections filed by persons aggrieved by the decisions of any authority of DIFC under DIFC laws. Any claims that fall under the jurisdiction of DIFC Courts are in compliance with the DIFC laws. Appeals against the decisions of the Court of First Instance can be filed in the Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeal comprises three judges, including one Chief Justice and the senior-most presiding judges of the court. It has absolute jurisdiction over the appeals filed against the orders or awards made by the Court of First Instance. The Chief Justice of the Court of Appeal has the power to interpret the DIFC laws at the request of any authority or for any other cause. The interpretation shall have the power of law. The Court of Appeals is the final authority to make decisions, and there would be no appeal against the Court of Appeal’s decision. The order of the Court of Appeal is final and conclusive. The Courts’ Chief Justice assigns duty to one or more of the Courts’ judges as execution judge(s).
The Small Claims Tribunals were established in the DIFC in 2007. The SCT can hear claims fulfilling the following conditions; where the value of the claim does not exceed AED 500,000 (UAE Dirhams), where the claim is regarding employment or former employment of any party, and the value of the claim exceeds AED 500,000 (UAE Dirhams), and the all the parties to the claim agree in writing that the claim shall be heard by the SCT. In the case of elective jurisdiction in employment claims, there is no value limit in SCT. Whereas in case of claims other than employment claims, the amount or value of the claim should not be more than AED 1 million (UAE Dirhams), and all parties to the dispute elect in writing that SCT shall hear the claim, such choice shall be made in contract or later on at the time of the dispute.
The DIFC courts also provide International Arbitration service to the entities situated in the DIFC or any entity elects in its contract the DIFC Arbitration forum for Arbitration in case of any dispute arises between the parties. The courts appoint competent international arbitration judges to hear the matters of Arbitration. For filing cases in the DIFC courts, there is a fee structure available for all the cases to be filed in the DIFC courts. The cases can be filed in the DIFC courts through the e-Registry portal of the DIFC website with the legal assistance of arbitration lawyers.