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Introduction

On 18 April 2024, the Ruler of Dubai established the new Judicial Authority for Resolving Jurisdictional Conflicts between the DIFC Courts and the Judicial Bodies in the Emirate of Dubai (the “New Judicial Authority”). The New Judicial Authority was established by Dubai Decree no. 29 of 2024 (the "New Decree"), and replaced the previous authority, the Joint Judicial Committee (the “JJC”), established by Dubai Decree no. 19 of 2016 (the “Old Decree”).

In what is a major departure from its part-judicial and part-advisory role, the New Judicial Authority is now tasked with a more definitive mandate: to focus solely on being the final arbiter of jurisdictional conflicts in Dubai. As its name suggests, the New Judicial Authority's purview extends beyond the DIFC Courts and the Dubai Courts, and its decisions now carry significant implications for litigants in the Emirate.

This development is particularly noteworthy for international arbitration practitioners and parties, as it could potentially impact the enforcement of international arbitral awards in Dubai, a key global hub for international business and dispute resolution.

We explore the key changes introduced by the New Decree, below.

Scope

Unlike the previous authority, the New Judicial Authority is no longer responsible for making proposals to the President of the Judicial Council as to the rules and regulations required to avoid conflicts of jurisdiction, or opinions on matters relating to the cooperation and coordination between the Dubai Courts and the DIFC Courts. This is partly due to the JJC’s progress in curtailing the use of the DIFC as a conduit jurisdiction, which previously allowed some award creditors to seek the recognition of onshore non-DIFC awards in the DIFC despite lacking any connection to the DIFC.

Instead, the New Judicial Authority’s sole focus is on resolving jurisdictional conflicts between the DIFC Courts and any "Judicial Bodies".  “Judicial Bodies” is a new defined term that encompasses the Dubai Courts, the Rental Disputes Resolution Centre, the Judicial Committees that are formed by decree or a decision of the Ruler or the Chairman, and other bodies that are deemed as judicial authorities in Dubai. By contrast, the JJC’s scope was limited to jurisdictional conflicts between the DIFC Courts and the Dubai Courts.

Accordingly, the New Judicial Authority is expected to have a greater case load than the JJC and the body of jurisprudence is also anticipated to grow.

Composition

Despite the added responsibility of resolving jurisdictional conflicts in relation to other "Judicial Bodies", the New Judicial Authority continues to be made up of the Secretary General of the JJC and three judges from each of the Dubai Courts and the DIFC Courts.

However, the Deputy Chief Justice of the DIFC Courts is now appointed as the Deputy Chairman under the New Decree (a position which did not exist under the Old Decree), and the President of the Court of Cassation in the Dubai Court remains as the Chairman. Further, the two judges selected by the Chief Justice of the DIFC Courts (to be members of the New Judicial Authority) no longer need to be from the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal, respectively.

These changes appear to be aimed at addressing the challenges associated with the potential increase in the New Judicial Authority's caseload.

Implications of the New Judicial Authority's decisions

Another major change introduced by the New Decree is the adoption of a common law style precedents system for the New Judicial Authority's decisions.

Article 9(c) of the New Decree provides that the legal rules prescribed by the New Judicial Authority in its decisions are to be deemed as judicial principles which will be binding on all Judicial Bodies, including the DIFC Courts. A judgment rendered in contravention of such judicial principles is recognised as a ground to appeal. The adoption of a form of binding precedent is an interesting development in a civil law jurisdiction such as the Emirate of Dubai.

In terms of the timeframe for decisions, whereas the JJC was required to issue a final decision within thirty working days from the date of application, the New Decree does not prescribe any timeframe for the New Judicial Authority to do so, although the implementing regulations may further clarify this point.

Key takeaways

The apparent objective behind the introduction of the New Judicial Authority – to provide greater predictability for businesses as to the proper forum for resolving their disputes which have a connection to Dubai is an important one and the New Decree should help to achieve that, due to the wider remit of the New Judicial Authority and the introduction of a system of precedent.

Litigants should pay close attention to the New Judicial Authority's decisions. The judicial principles set out in their decisions will form a body of binding precedent on jurisdictional conflict and can only be re-tested before the New Judicial Authority in a different case, with no option to appeal in the Courts or Judicial Bodies of the jurisdiction where the substantive dispute takes place.

Litigants should also think twice before commencing parallel proceedings, as the automatic stay applied to such proceedings while the New Judicial Authority resolves the jurisdictional conflict could remain in place for an extended period, potentially beyond the 30 days prescribed by the Old Decree.

For further information, please contact Stuart Paterson (Partner), Nick Oury (Partner), Jason Han (Associate), Rania Mostafa (Paralegal) or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.

 

 

 

 

Stuart Paterson photo

Stuart Paterson

Managing Partner, Middle East and Head of Middle East Dispute Resolution, Dubai

Stuart Paterson
Nick Oury photo

Nick Oury

Partner, Head of Middle East Construction Disputes, Dubai

Nick Oury
Jason Han photo

Jason Han

Associate,

Jason Han

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Key contacts

Stuart Paterson photo

Stuart Paterson

Managing Partner, Middle East and Head of Middle East Dispute Resolution, Dubai

Stuart Paterson
Nick Oury photo

Nick Oury

Partner, Head of Middle East Construction Disputes, Dubai

Nick Oury
Jason Han photo

Jason Han

Associate,

Jason Han
Stuart Paterson Nick Oury Jason Han