US judges to preside over cases at Abu Dhabi court

The new recruits will work in Abu Dhabi Judicial Department’s commercial court — in a first for the emirate

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, May 9, 2019.   First Western Judges.  (L-R)  Judge Colleen and Judge Oran.
Victor Besa/The National
Section:  NA
Reporter:  Shireena Al Nowais
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American judges will soon preside over cases heard in Abu Dhabi courts for the first time in the capital’s history.

Colleen O’Toole, 58, and Oran Whiting, 57, were sworn in for duty last week and will hear cases at Abu Dhabi Judicial Department’s commercial court.

The pair will work in the major chamber Commercial Court of First Instance, where they will pass judgments on disputes with values of over one million dirhams.

The appointments are part of the local court's efforts to attract foreign investment and come months after the department made all documents and court forms available in English.

The judges' appointments were ordered by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Presidential Affairs and chairman of the judicial department, and described as an “unprecedented step” in the judiciary’s history by the Counselor Youssef Al Ebri, undersecretary of Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.

Speaking to The National, Judge Colleen said she was excited and honoured to be one of the first American recruits.

“I hope, through mutual collaboration and co-operation, to be able to learn from their system as they will learn from my experience and overall we will be able to produce a better outcome," she said.

“This is a very progressive vision so I am open to learning best practices. The system is changing is so quickly. I know we concentrate on transparency and being able to serve the citizens, which is a core competency, and all justice systems can do better.”

A former Republican Supreme Court nominee, Judge Colleen previously served at a Court of Appeals in Ohio, where she is from.

She arrived to the UAE for the first time about a month ago. “[The UAE] was like a jewel in the Middle East," she said.

“My country’s justice system is not any better than this country’s but given that additional perspective can only improve outcomes.”

Judge Oran joined ADJD after working as a presiding judge in a Cook County court in Chicago. He said he, his wife and father moved to Abu Dhabi the day after receiving his job offer, choosing to decline other opportunities.

“This was a much better offer because it is a much broader perspective and has the potential of doing much broader good for everyone in the UAE and frankly for everyone in the Middle East and around the world,” said Judge Oran.

“The system is very open and unique in the sense that you have a group of open-minded people who have the desire and resources to not only take the legal system to the next level but to make it a world class legal system and to educate those around the world who may not aware of just how good this system is,” he said.

“There are a few things that can be amended and tweaked to be a bit better and there are things here that I think can be used back in the states to tweak that system. It is a mutual learning experience.”

Mr Al Ebri, the department’s undersecretary, said the move is part of efforts to present Abu Dhabi’s juridical system as an “English-speaking world-class court [and] a court that provides a flexible and modern judicial environment to resolve commercial disputes facing foreign investors.”

It is also in accordance with Ghadan 21, a package of measures to make living and working in Abu Dhabi more seamless, announced last year by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

Mr Al Abri said the judges’ experience in US courts would “bolster the work in the mixed commercial chambers in Abu Dhabi courts and enhance the litigants’ confidence to resolve their commercial disputes" to the fullest.