Covid-19 impact on UAE courts and arbitration

08 April 2020
Technology has been widely used to mitigate the impact of the global pandemic on the UAE's onshore courts, DIFC Courts, ADGM Courts and arbitration centres

Due to the unprecedented impact of Covid-19, courts and other legal forums have been forced to adapt their usual business practices for the safety of their employees and the practitioners that use them.

Courts and arbitration centres in the UAE have taken swift action to ensure the continued health of key stakeholders, without forgoing their responsibilities to the people they serve, placing an emphasis on the use of technology to mitigate the impact of the global pandemic on the business community.

Below is an overview by Herbert Smith Freehills of the key measures taken in the UAE onshore courts, DIFC Courts, ADGM Courts and arbitration centres most commonly used in the UAE. This information was gathered on 6 April 2020, and remains subject to change.

Onshore courts
  • As a precautionary measure against Covid-19, the Dubai Courts have postponed all court hearings at Cassation, Appeal and First Instance from Sunday 22 March to Thursday 16 April 2020.
  • The issuance of certificates and personal status documents (such as marriage and divorce certificates) has also been suspended for the same period.
  • The Dubai Courts encourage the public to continue to use its smart services while they ensure business continuity by facilitating remote working for its various departments.
  • It is understood that hearing dates will not be set for any new civil claims until further notice. All ongoing civil proceedings have been adjourned/postponed to a later date.
  • Criminal cases and appeals involving inmates and detainees shall continue remotely, as per an order by the chief of Dubai Courts.
  • No measures have been reported by the Federal Courts in relation to their dealing of civil cases or precautionary attachment as of yet. We expect to issue guidance on future measures over the course of the next few weeks.
Offshore courts
Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts
  • Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and in an effort to protect the health and wellbeing of staff and court users, DIFC Courts employees now operate on a work-from-home remote basis.
  • The doors of the DIFC Courts and Registry Offices are also physically closed until 26 April 2020, or pending further notice.
  • Access to the DIFC Courts’ library and other rooms has also been temporarily removed.
  • At present, all hearings are to be held via teleconference. Practitioners are urged to utilise the e-bundling platform available through the case management system (the “eRegistry”), which will be subject to the usual deadlines for submission under the Rules of the DIFC Courts.
  • If practitioners find themselves unable to use the eRegistry, permission can be sought to lodge bundles in hardcopy. Please note, however, that deadlines will be brought forward to enable delivery to the presiding judge, or judges, given that they are now located offsite.
  • All hearings conducted for small claims tribunal cases will be through videoconference for overseas litigants, or teleconference for litigants situated in the UAE. Any documents to be filed in the SCT must be filed electronically.
  • Issues or queries regarding videoconferencing, the eRegistry and e-bundling can be addressed to ITHelpdesk@difccourts.ae.
  • For urgent applications or extremely urgent queries outside of standard office hours, the registrar on duty can be contacted on +971 56 398 9583.
  • The Wills Service Centre at the DIFC Courts is in the process of developing a system which will allow the testator and two witnesses to join the videoconferencing call from different locations, upload the approved will directly on to the system and affix electronic signatures to avert the need to print wills.
  • However, until the new system is developed, the DIFC Courts request that appointments are booked only when the testator and witnesses can be present at the same location.
  • The DIFC Courts recently granted only its third order in 11 years permitting a witness to give evidence at trial by way of a video link. We expect the DIFC Courts to make further use of video technology to meet court deadlines during this period.
Abu Dhabi Global Markets (ADGM) Courts
  • The priorities of the ADGM during this unprecedented time are to support the wellbeing of ADGM community employees and their families; ensure business continuity in providing their business community with uninterrupted access to ADGM client services; and provide business support and relief to their community more generally.
  • In keeping with these priorities, the ADGM Courts remain fully operational to support users through the eCourts Platform (www.adgmcourts.com). The ADGM Courts registrar is also contactable for urgent matters by email on registry@adgmcourts.com, or for extremely urgent matters on +971 56 177 0761.
  • The ADGM as a whole is focused on delivering “uninterrupted services at high standards” while moving to 100 per cent remote working arrangements, as mandated by the UAE government.
Arbitration centres
DIFC London Court of International Arbitration (DIFC-LCIA)
  • The DIFC-LCIA continues to operate as usual with the majority of its staff working remotely without issue. A limited number of employees continue to work from the DIFC-LCIA offices.
  • However, this is likely to change following new measures announced on Saturday 4 April 2020 by Dubai’s Supreme Committee of Crises & Disaster Management, in coordination with the Command and Control Centre for Combating Covid-19, extending the sterilisation programme to 24 hours a day and preventing individuals in non-vital sectors from leaving their homes.
  • Parties are encouraged to make any filings and payments electronically and visitors are only permitted to attend the DIFC-LCIA offices with an appointment.
  • Hearings can be held electronically or postponed, subject to agreement by the tribunal and the relevant parties’. The DIFC-LCIA has expressed no objection to holding hearings electronically.
Dubai International Arbitration Centre (DIAC)
  • In line with the UAE government’s efforts to prevent the spread of Covid-19, DIAC will only accept submissions electronically. Accordingly, any new requests for arbitration, including supporting documents, are to be submitted through DIAC’s online portal on DIAC’s website (http://www.diac.ae/).
  • Case-related documents for ongoing cases are to be submitted by email only.
  • During this period, any payments, whether in regards to registration fees or fees related to ongoing cases, are to be made by bank transfer to the given DIAC bank account, until further notice.
  • Hearings can be held either by videoconference or can be postponed, subject to decision by the sole arbitrator or tribunal.
ADGM Arbitration Centre
  • The ADGM Arbitration Centre is currently closed. However, staff are available to respond to all enquiries on enquiry@adgmac.com.
ICC International Centre for ADR (ICC)
  • All offices of the Secretariat of the ICC Court and the ICC ADR Centre continue to operate as normal, with staff working remotely. As is common amongst all arbitration centres at present, requests for arbitration, applications for the appointment of emergency arbitrators etc. are to be filed electronically only.
  • Meetings scheduled to take place at ICC offices around the world are now being conducted virtually.

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