The number of new cases in the Dubai World Tribunal is on course to more than double this year following the first significant rulings for the young judicial body.
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As of yesterday, a total of 41 claims had been lodged in the Tribunal, a body set up two years ago to hear cases brought by and against Dubai World as it underwent a restructuring. Just 29 cases were filed last year.
"There is a bit more confidence in the system and in the process, and people who were holding back are pursuing because they see results," said Kaashif Basit, a partner at KBH Kaanuun in Dubai who has been involved in numerous Tribunal cases.
The Tribunal is one element of the government-owned Dubai World's bid to regain a financial footing after faltering during the financial crisis. Dubai World announced a standstill on debt repayments in late 2009 and recently put the finishing touches on a US$24.9 billion (Dh91.45bn) debt restructuring.
Based in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), the Tribunal's plaintiffs have included aggrieved property investors, contractors and former employees this year and last. In one high-profile case the Tribunal ruled in favour of Vinod Kumar Dang, who had earlier won an arbitration case against Jumeirah Islands, a development built by Dubai World's Nakheel. Mr Dang had sought to have the Tribunal enforce the arbitration award, over the quality of construction on his villa. In another prominent case, a group of property investors won a claim against Nakheel in which they argued the developer improperly backed out of a consolidation of investments in a stalled project into other properties where construction was proceeding.
In a more recent twist, Dubai World subsidiaries have also started using the Tribunal to recover money they claim they are owed. Nakheel and Limitless, a pair of Dubai World-owned property companies behind some of the emirate's biggest projects, have brought nine cases this year, compared with just three last year. That trend, Mr Basit said, was partly responsible for the marked rise in activity this year.
"It's not just people going up against Nakheel anymore," he said. "Nakheel has become more proactive in pursuing people."
Another draw for the Tribunal, lawyers say, is its familiarity. Its procedures and laws are based on those used in the DIFC Courts, the centre's judicial system. Those rules and laws, in turn, borrow heavily from the British system.
Another driver is the sense of growing frustration among investors and contractors who have not been able to reach out-of-court settlements with Dubai World and its subsidiaries, lawyers say. And then there is the fear that plans to separate Nakheel from Dubai World as part of the restructuring will move cases against the developer into local courts, where judicial processes are less familiar to some prospective claimants.
"Since the start of this year there's been commentary from Nakheel that it's going to be carved out of Dubai World," said Joe Durkin, a lawyer at Davidson & Co in Dubai who has handled Tribunal cases. "If you have a case against Nakheel and there's a risk that the door will be closed to the Tribunal, many will take action preferring to be in that jurisdiction."
But perhaps the most widely cited reason for the recent increase in Tribunal activity is the clarity that has come from recent decisions.
"… one reason people have been more active is that they've seen successes in the Tribunal … in a comparatively short period of time," Mr Durkin said.