Legal reform is an important part of a modernising nation’s economic prosperity. The provision of an expert legal sector is fundamental to the success of business and commerce, and underpins the very fabric of our society.
Located in a civil jurisdiction, Dubai made an admirably daring move almost 20 years ago when setting up the Dubai International Financial Centre free zone with common law structures and governance. The city, and the UAE as a whole, in fact, are the very face of lessons in adaptability and agility, leading to impressive development in driving excellence of court services, and adapting them to the future.
The UAE’s commitment to providing a highly competitive business environment is crucial to its long-term vision of economic diversification. The ability of the UAE’s judicial systems to support and protect the businesses that operate here will prove crucial to the nation’s long-term objective to attract and retain foreign investment.
Globalisation drives courts to innovate; future legal sector and court personnel must acquire not only knowledge of the law, but must now do it in several languages and with the use of cutting-edge technologies. As technology shrinks the distances between the world’s markets, entrepreneurs and investors should be able to choose courts that can provide certainty based on this innovative legal knowledge.
Research has identified the legal needs of multinational corporations and found that broad competencies are required for lawyers, court staff and judges to deliver value. Since its launch in 2004, the DIFC Courts has devised strategies for driving judicial excellence and has emerged as the region’s hub for judicial and legal training excellence. One such strategy that has continued to help train judges to operate across multiple legal systems is our first-ever clerkship programme developed in partnership with Canada’s McGill University Faculty of Law in 2018.
Two years later, in 2021, we achieved a new milestone by appointing the next generation of Emirati judges with trans-systemic expertise across civil and common law, which included Justice Nassir Al Nasser and Justice Maha Al Mheiri. In fact, with the appointment of Justice Al Mheiri, DIFC Courts was the first court to appoint a female Emirati judge to a common law court. These appointments complemented our already impressive independent, learned and experienced bench that has earned trust and confidence, both locally and globally.
To fill the gaps in traditional legal training, newly appointed Emirati judicial officers were sent by the Government of Dubai to the UK for intensive training on common law. The programme focused on cross-training judicial and registry staff in civil and common law systems, providing international and comparative law perspectives, in English and Arabic.
Fast-forward to 2022 and Emirati judges and registry staff have spent almost 20 years engaged in international training; self-development programmes; drafting rules for the courts; spearheading the introduction of the Small Claims Tribunal; and overseeing major commercial and civil cases. We forged deep working relationships with regional and global commercial courts such as the Hong Kong High Court, Federal Court of Malaysia and High Court of Zambia, to name a few, to devise a practical mechanism to foster investor confidence and legal certainty. Furthermore, we are maintaining our assertive push towards digital transformation and achieving increased administrative efficiency by helping introduce and harness cutting-edge digital systems.
Over the years, DIFC Courts has also sought to work in tandem with the UAE legal community and maintain links with leading domestic and global tertiary institutions to develop intellectual partnerships and launch initiatives such as scholarships, internships and secondment programmes aimed at encouraging undergraduates to pursue jurisdictional knowledge in both civil and common law to foster attraction and competitiveness for the next generation of law students. Specific training programmes, in conjunction with domestic universities such as American University in the Emirates and the University of Sharjah, have also targeted Emirati law graduates, which offer knowledge of, and qualifications in, the English-language common law system.
Through the intensive programmes, budding lawyers, courts personnel and jurists are cross-trained in civil and common law codes, fostering the core skills needed to address the sort of complex international disputes that are increasingly handled by global courts.
Among many new initiatives outlined by the DIFC Courts in recent years, in line with the vision of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, the Emirati Advocates Mentorship Programme, as well as the Emirates Development of Judicial Excellence, have been designed specifically to fulfil a three-tier strategy of increasing the number of Emiratis within the organisation; developing and retaining the talent we have; and incubating new talent through an internship, graduate, and secondee programmes.
Following extensive feedback from practitioners and stakeholders, these programmes will serve to develop the UAE national workforce and enhance the competitiveness of Emirati legal professionals.