Courts of the Future Forum

Together with the Dubai Future Foundation, another government body, the DIFC Courts have recently launched a project, which is entitled the Courts of the Future (COF) Forum and focuses on proposing a global outlook for challenges of the future and find solutions to how Courts should best address them. The Forum brought together a group of 13 experts from across the world as its members, with the goal to design guidelines and prototype a commercial court that can operate from anywhere worldwide. The COF initiative will help create certainty for businesses, investors and entrepreneurs currently unsure of the legal implications of rapid technological advancements. It also considered new ways to oversee disruptive technology such as driverless cars, drones, Blockchain and cybersecurity.


Thinking through the judicial implications of emerging technologies is the Forum’s first priority. The second is to unlock the power of the same innovations to transform the experience of using a court for the end-user, the legal sector and the judiciary itself. This new initiative is about thinking big for big business, thinking smart for small business and thinking ahead for businesses of the future.

Mark Beer

Co-Chief Executive and Registrar General of DIFC Courts

The initiative consists of five distinct pillars:

  1. Artificial Intelligence (AI): Potential disputes in relation as to who is liable for decisions made by AI and robotic applications, as well as to AI handling of due diligence for transactions and processing. Also, as AI is not an out-of-the-box solution, design and implementation are tailored to client requirements – as with any custom solution this can lead to performance issue disputes.
  2. Self-driving cars: The technical and legal landscapes for connected vehicles, advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous vehicles are undergoing rapid change. The permitted use of automated functions in road traffic is not just a question of national law, but is also subject to regulations at international level.
  3. Blockchain: Disputes include cyber-attacks, the related breach of trust issues and insurance policy disputes. Are current mainstream dispute resolution avenues appropriate for technology disputes, and will they be suitable to deal with the concepts of blockchain, smart contracts and decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs)?
  4. 3D-printing: Intellectual property will end up playing a significant role in shaping 3D printing’s journey. Who is liable for a product defect – the electronic design distributor, or the manufacturer of printer? Do consumer protection principles apply, or does there need to be 3D printing law for product liability?
  5. Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS): The future will see regulatory risks in developing and marketing UAS technology, in addition to product liability. UAS or ‘drone’ technology will present new legal challenges when it is combined with other technology such as high-resolution imaging, sensors, and mapping hardware and software.

The Challenge

How should the Courts of the Future look like in terms of knowledge, procedures and efficiency and technology integration?

The DIFC Courts are interested in developing dispute resolution services which can meet the needs of technology-driven businesses and citizens of the future, to ensure efficient, effective and fair delivery of justice. These goals can be accomplished by focusing on at least three different aspects:

1. The use of technology within the court system

Public courts around the world struggle with case backlogs. Especially in citizen disputes (C2C or B2C), parties most likely end up in national courts. Supreme Courts in different countries, and even international fora such as the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights, face the same challenges. This phenomenon occurs because of the fact that established procedures are sometimes slow, and information automatization is not very well spread.

  • Using technology in court operations can help speed up procedures. For instance, the DIFC Courts have taken the initiative to adopt an online hearing system and launched the region’s first ‘Smart Small Claims Tribunal’ in 2016, enabling an individual or a small-and-midsize enterprise to access justice wherever they may be in Dubai, UAE or beyond. It is equipped with video conferencing technology to enable parties to participate in a hearing wherever they are located in the world. This facility is particularly beneficial to business owners who travel extensively for business. They will no longer need to change business travel plans in order to attend a hearing. It will now just be a matter of scheduling 1-2 hours into their schedule, wherever they are in the world. This is an innovative, private, swift and cost-efficient way to resolve disputes amicably, where 90% of all cases are resolved within four weeks.
  • Moreover, with new emerging Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain tools, it is possible to take this automatization to a new level, and further enhance the high quality of services offered by the Courts. We are yet to identify how technology can be implemented into the judicial system to make Courts accessible, more effective at ensuring the delivery of justice, mitigating the problem of backlog within courts, and understanding the types of disputes that may arise from the rapid progress in technology.

2. The understanding of technology by Courts

Ever heard about the judge who started to learn to code so he could understand his cases better? Disputes relating to complex technologies such as self-driving cars, unmanned aircraft vehicles or 3D-printing need a complex understanding of these systems. However, this type of information is difficult to retrieve and digest, so judges cannot be expected to have degrees in engineering or computer programming. However, they must still be able to develop expertise iinspecific fields, so their assessment of various cases receives the trust of the community or the industry.

  • Perhaps it is time for courts to think about establishing a ‘Model’ of the dispute of the future, such as what type of technology is involved, what issues it may raise. How can courts equip themselves to address these challenges, and if not, what needs to be changed? The model can be further enhanced through marketing methods such as visual and sound, to provide more information to the public, and broaden their understanding about the COF. The model, once developed, can be published on the COF online website, as a way of providing more depth and understanding behind the COF initiative.
  • The ‘Internet of Things’ (IOT), despite its many benefits (such as easy access to information), is in fact an uncontrolled collection of data. In other words, the internet is an open forum where individuals from all across the world can upload, download and share information, which is then stored into the database of the internet. As we progress into the future, this platform becomes increasingly broad with applications and technologies, increasing the information stored on the internet plane, such as social media platforms (i.e. Snapchat) which allow individuals to take videos or pictures of their ‘current’ activities. How can the IOT be integrated into a court of the future (case management or case registration systems)?

3. Using technology in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Apart from court procedures, the DIFC Courts’ partner entities all operate under one umbrella division – the Dispute Resolution Authority (DRA), to provide a full range of dispute resolution services, which include also arbitration and mediation. Normally, such services require physical presence and are provided in a face-to-face setting, but with the rise of Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR), some of these methods of dispute resolution could fundamentally change.

Guiding questions

Now that you know what the DIFC Courts stand for and are interested in, we are looking forward to hearing advice from you on matters such as the ones listed below. The questions are designed to guide your thought process and do not necessarily require a full answer. Please pick 1-2 questions from this document (or more, if you deem they are related), and focus on devising a creative idea or solution which you find interesting and relevant, to help address how courts of the future should look like. Out-of-the-box thinking is highly encouraged.


Mihaela Moldoveanu

Associate Director, DRA Projects (Dubai International Financial Centre)


The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) is designed to be a financial free zone offering a unique, independent legal and regulatory framework in order to create an environment for growth, progress and economic development in the UAE and the wider region. The DIFC Courts are common-law courts created in the United Arab Emirates in 2006, which operates exclusively in English, for the independent administration of justice, in relation to civil or commercial cases and disputes. The DIFC Courts do not, however, have jurisdiction over criminal matters. The DIFC Courts were established under two laws enacted by the late Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the then Ruler of Dubai. The laws establishing the DIFC Courts were designed to ensure the highest international standards of legal procedure, thus ensuring that the DIFC Courts provide the certainty, flexibility and efficiency expected by the global institutions operating in, with and from Dubai and the UAE. The laws enacted provide for a court system capable of resolving all civil and commercial disputes, ranging from sophisticated cross-border transactions to smaller claims such as debt collection and employment disputes.

The DIFC Courts have a judicial bench of 10 justices from leading common-law jurisdictions, including 3 resident Emirati judges. Since their inception the DIFC Courts have heard a wide range of cases, covering matters such as complex financial transactions, real estate, breach of contract and high-profile employment disputes. By way of reference, in 2016 the total amount of claims and counterclaims filed in the Court of First Instance was 739.90 million US dollars. The average value per claim was 28.3 million US dollars.

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1 February 2018