While it has taken time to impact the legal profession, digital technology is now starting to redefine traditional legal structures and modus operandi. The physical nature of traditional courtrooms has cemented their place over time as an intimidating, restricted institution that is growing increasingly unfit to solve complex and far-reaching disputes.
The legal industry is now compelled to become more user-friendly, and the only way is through technology. It needs technology to allow parties to come together in a forum that best serves their interest in finding a solution.
Perhaps because of their relative youth, judiciaries in this region have proven themselves to be early adopters of the latest technology. The UAE and in particular Dubai, with its Smart Dubai initiative to become the technologically smartest city in the world, is fast becoming a global leader in the adoption of new technologies to meet the demands of business.
This era of legal technological disruption working to replace outdated processes with digital technology is the key to creating real legal efficiency and certainty for businesses. Whatever the activity, the guiding principle of a modern international and business-facing commercial court should be one of service, enabling swift settlement of disputes, powered by technology.
Settling disputes in real-time
For instance, technology allows for greater fairness by ensuring both sides are informed of court matters in real time, while enhancing accessibility through modern Case Management Systems (CMS) that allow for 24x7 operations and the ability to conduct virtual hearings via smart devices from anywhere in the world. The DIFC Courts have led the way on this front, introducing the region’s first e-bundling “paperless” system in 2018.
A secure cloud-based technology, the e-bundling service allows court documents to be uploaded from anywhere in the world, enabling judges, lawyers and courts staff to access case information in various formats, across multiple locations and share with numerous users. In an era of digital disruption, innovative technological approaches like this are creating clear advantages for businesses with greater legal certainty and faster and more connected ways to access case information. Expectations from the private sector increasingly require the bold engagement of public service and of regulatory agencies. To meet these expectations and help drive commerce forward, today’s commercial courts must look to harness technology to create a level-playing field between businesses, by re-engineering the way commercial justice is designed and delivered.
Empowering all in the process
As commercial courts continue to make strides with technologies such as smart contracts, blockchain and AI, so companies will be enabled and empowered to scale up faster than ever, with suppliers and customers knowing disputes can be resolved — and decisions enforced — in seconds versus months or years. And without the need for human intervention, with AI and machine learning making the system smarter.
In my opinion, the development of modern commercial courts should rank among the region’s foremost achievements of the last decade for the certainty they have brought to the businesses and individuals operating and living in the region. We have seen the Arab world start to take the lead in certain areas of dispute resolution as judiciaries in this region continue to be early adopters of the latest technology to allow parties to come together in a forum which best serves their interest in finding a solution.
Because being a world class commercial court is not an end in itself. For the DIFC Courts, that means helping to make the UAE one of the best places in the world to live and work. But I also believe we are just at the beginning of the story.
When it comes to resolving disputes, businesses like choice and they need certainty, and it is no coincidence that technologically advanced judiciaries in the Arab world that can offer both choice and swift legal recourse are also among the most economically successful. Put simply, effective commercial courts have become a critical influencing factor for investors when choosing which market to set up their business and where to channel their investments within the region.
Amna Al Owais is Chief Registrar of DIFC Courts.