US magistrates to help adjudicate major commercial cases in Abu Dhabi

The Judicial Department last November approved English language in the courts for the first time in the Middle East.
Saturday 18/05/2019
Judge Oran Whiting and Judge Colene Marie Otol with Abu Dhabi Judicial Department officials. (Abu Dhabi Judicial Department)
Judge Oran Whiting and Judge Colene Marie Otol with Abu Dhabi Judicial Department officials. (Abu Dhabi Judicial Department)

DUBAI - Abu Dhabi has announced the unprecedented appointment of US judges Oran Whiting and Collene Mary O'Toole to Abu Dhabi Commercial Courts.

WAM, the United Arab Emirates’ official news agency, citing the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, said the judges will work in the full chamber of the Commercial Court of First Instance to hear disputes where values in dispute exceed 1 million UAE dirhams ($272,220).

The appointments are based on provisions of the Civil Procedures Law of 2017, permitting mixed chambers with foreign experts to be formed to make decisions in full lawsuits.

Counsellor Youssef Saeed al-Abri, under-secretary of Abu Dhabi Judicial Department), called the move “unprecedented” and said the decision “was aimed at establishing the standing of the judicial system of Abu Dhabi emirate as per the international courts where English language is spoken and work towards providing a developed and flexible judicial environment for settling the commercial disputes faced by the foreign investors.”

“This helps in the development of the judicial facility in the Emirate in accordance with the ‘Tomorrow 2021’ plan,” he added. This plan was introduced last September.

Abri said the appointments reflect the interest of the Judicial Department in seeking the help of the best judges and judicial experts internationally to fulfil requirements of international and regional establishments, which plan to practice in Abu Dhabi.

Whiting and O'Toole have considerable academic, legal and legislative experience.

Whiting worked as a judge in Illinois and in commercial arbitration. He was a partner in the Baker and McKenzie International Law Firm. He taught law at Chicago University and also held the position of legal consultant in the Illinois state legislature.

O'Toole was twice elected to the Ohio Court of Appeals. She also taught law at Kent State University in the United States.

The Abu Dhabi Commercial Court was established in May 2008 to cope with the growth of the business sector in the emirate and out of a need for fair, effective and innovative judicial services.

This court is under the general court system and includes minor and major chambers at the first level and an appellate court. It is assisted by a reconciliation committee whose role is to find amicable solutions to disputes.

The court considers peculiarities of commercial litigants and the importance of time factor for businesses.

The Judicial Department last November approved the English language in the courts for the first time in the Middle East.

Stating that the geographic location of the country encourages international companies to set up their regional headquarters in the United Arab Emirates, Marwan bin Jassim al-Sarkal, executive chairman of Sharjah Investment and Development Authority, said: “The country has become a nurturing environment for a majority of sectors, providing added value for [foreign direct investment] FDI through its advanced and updated legislation, infrastructure and smart services, amongst others, that gives investors peace of mind and boosts performance.”

The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and the Abu Dhabi General Market have their own courts and dispute resolution authorities for entities operating in those zones, where foreign judges apply a fully independent, common law framework to adjudicate civil and commercial disputes.

The DIFC in 2014 established the Dispute Resolution Authority composed of DIFC Courts, the Arbitration Institute and other tribunals or ancillary bodies.

The move is expected to bolster the Emirates’ efforts to make the country more attractive for foreign companies and individuals in investment, business and employment opportunities.

The United Arab Emirates is opening its visa regime and other laws and regulations related to owning property, investing in trade, business or industry.

In 2017, the Emirates’ attracted more than $10 billion in the UN Conference on Trade and Investment. This was in part because of rising cross-border mergers and acquisitions sales and the country’s ambition to double FDI in the next few years.

In 2018, a Foreign Direct Investment Law went into effect, signalling the liberalisation of the Emirates’ foreign ownership restrictions under the country’s Commercial Companies Law, which limits a foreign shareholder to holding no more than 49% of the shares in an onshore UAE company.

The new FDI Law provides a framework for the UAE cabinet to permit foreign shareholders to own up to 100% of companies in certain designated sectors.

Experts consider the introduction of the FDI law a significant development that is likely to increase levels of foreign investment in the United Arab Emirates in line with the government’s efforts to attract foreign investment and diversify the UAE economy.