United Arab Emirates: Arbitration

Last Updated: 13 November 2017
Article by Antonios Dimitracopoulos

1. What legislation applies to arbitration? Are there any mandatory laws?

The legislation which applies to an arbitration is dependent on whether the arbitration is governed by the laws of the United Arab Emirates ("UAE"), or by the laws of distinct jurisdictions such as the Dubai International Financial Centre ("DIFC") or the Abu Dhabi Global Market ("ADGM"), generally understood as "Off-Shore Jurisdictions"), all of which have their own arbitration laws.

UAE

Articles 203 to 218 of Federal Law No. 11/192 (the "UAE CPC") are relevant to arbitration.

Off-Shore Jurisdictions

Dubai

DIFC Law (No. 1 of 2008, as amended by DIFC Law no. 6 of 2013) (the "DIFC Arbitration Law"), governs arbitral disputes which are subject to the jurisdiction of the DIFC. The amendment to the DIFC Law No. 1 of 2008 clarified the DIFC Court's authority to dismiss or stay an action brought before the court (which is also subject to an arbitration agreement) unless it finds 'that the arbitration agreement is null and void, inoperative or incapable of being performed'' even where the seat of the arbitration is one other than the DIFC and where no seat has been designated or determined.

Abu Dhabi

The ADGM announced the establishment of an arbitration hearing centre (the "ADGM Arbitration Centre") on Al Maryah Island by early 2018.

The ADGM Arbitration Regulations 2015 ("ADGM Regulations"), based on the UNCITRAL Model Law will govern arbitrations where the:

  • seat of the arbitration is the ADGM; or
  • arbitration agreement applies the ADGM Regulations.

The Judicial Tribunal for the Dubai Courts and the DIFC Courts

Decree no. 19 of 2016 established the Judicial Tribunal for the Dubai Courts and the DIFC Courts (the "Judicial Tribunal"). The Judicial Tribunal was established to deal with issues including conflicts of jurisdiction between the DIFC and Dubai Courts.

A limited number of decisions have been issued by the Judicial Tribunal to date. These decisions generally indicate that for arbitration proceedings that are seated in mainland Dubai, the Dubai (Federal) Courts would have curial jurisdiction, whereas the curial jurisdiction of the DIFC Courts would be limited to those arbitration proceedings seated in the DIFC.

2. Is the country a signatory to the New York Convention? Are there any reservations to the general obligations of the Convention?

The UAE is a signatory to the New York Convention since 2006 with no reservations to the general conditions of this convention.

3. What other arbitration-related treaties and conventions is the country a party to?

Conventions

The two most relevant conventions to which the UAE is a party, are the:

  • Riyadh Arab Agreement for Judicial Cooperation between States of the Arab League (1983) (the "Riyadh Convention"); and
  • GCC Convention for the Execution of Judgements, Delegations and Judicial Notifications (1996) (the "GCC Convention").

These above conventions may be more relevant, when attempting to enforce an arbitral award in country-members of the Riyadh Convention, where the New York Convention does not apply, for example Iraq and Yemen.

Memorandums of Understanding

The 2009 Memorandum of Understanding between the Dubai Courts and the DIFC Courts (the "2009 MOU").

The 2009 MOU promoted the discussion of issues of mutual interest including the formation of joint working groups (such as a committee to 'develop recommendations and protocols concerning matters such as service of documents between the courts, enforcement of orders between the courts and resolution of jurisdictional questions that might arise between the courts'), 'technical assistance, cooperation and information sharing and training'.

The 2009 MOU's relevance to arbitration may arise for instance when an international award is recognised by the DIFC Courts and then enforced in mainland Dubai, through the Dubai (Federal ) Courts.

4. Is the law governing international arbitration based on the UNCITRAL Model Law? Are there significant differences between the two?

UAE

The articles of the UAE CPC which relate to arbitration, are not based on the UNCITRAL Model Law.

These differences mainly relate to procedural aspects, violation of which has in the past been shown to lead to nullification of otherwise valid arbitral awards. Examples include the warranty of authority that a party-representative needs to formally demonstrate (usually through a notarised Power of Attorney), as well the requirement for witnesses to be sworn on oath before their evidence can be formally accepted.

Off-Shore Jurisdictions

The DIFC Arbitration Law and the ADGM Regulations are both based on the UNCITRAL Model Law.

5. Are there any impending plans to reform the arbitration laws?

A new, UNCITRAL-based UAE Federal arbitration law has for a number of years been in the process of being considered for ministerial approval.

This proposed new law will in all likelihood repeal those articles within the UAE CPC which relate to arbitration.

6. What arbitral institutions (if any) exist? Have there been any amendments to their rules or are there any being considered?

UAE

The main On-Shore arbitral institutions, in order of case volume, are the:

  • Dubai International Arbitration Centre ("DIAC"), which applies the DIAC Rules (2007) (the "DIAC Rules"); and
  • Abu Dhabi Commercial Conciliation and Arbitration Centre ("ADCCAC"), which applies the Procedural Regulations of Arbitration (the "ADCCAC Rules").

There exists, within the remaining Emirates, a number of other arbitration centres, for example in:

  • Ras Al Khaimah: The Ras Al Khaimah Centre of Reconciliation and Commercial Arbitration;
  • Ajman: The Ajam Centre for Commercial Conciliation and Arbitration; and
  • Sharjah: The Tahkeem Sharjah International Arbitration Centre.

UAE Off-Shore Jurisdictions

The Dubai International Financial Centre / London Court of International Arbitration Centre ("DIFC-LCIA Arbitration Centre") which applies the DIFC-LCIA Arbitration Rules 2016 (the "DIFC-LCIA Arbitration Rules").

Amendments to Institutional Rules

The DIAC has proposed rules, intended to replace the current DIAC Rules. These rules propose:

  • procedures for appointing an emergency arbitrator; and
  • expedited arbitration procedures.

To read this Chapter in full, please click here.

Originally published by The Legal 500 & The In-House Lawyer Comparative Legal Guide to UAE: Arbitration

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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