Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Strategic Objectives Expands and DIFC Courts Implementing Paperless Mission by Richie Santosdiaz and Polly Jean Harrison
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DIFC Expands Strategic Objectives and DIFC Courts Implement a Paperless Mission

Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) is an international financial centre for the wider Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region located in the heart of Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

First, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, issued Law No. (5) of 2021 that relates to DIFC. The new Law replaces Law No. (9) of 2004 (the original founding law) on Dubai International Financial Centre. Aligning with global best practice, the new law provides for more clarity on the duties and responsibilities of the President, the Governor and the Centre bodies in DIFC, also ensuring the Centre’s operational, financial and administrative independence that is crucial for the continued growth and success of the Centre. It also confirms the requirements for their adherence to the highest governance and accountability principles.

DIFC’s strategic objectives expand under the new Law, aiming to further boost Dubai’s position as a global hub for financial services and promote the values of efficiency, transparency and integrity. These objectives now also include advancing sustainable economic growth for Dubai, developing and diversifying its economy and increasing the GDP contribution of the financial services sector. This is to promote investment into Dubai and to attract regional and international entities to establish themselves in DIFC as their principal place of business.

The Dispute Resolution Authority that existed under the previous Law will operate as two separate bodies under the new Law in the form of the DIFC Courts and the Arbitration Institute. This permits each body maximum opportunity for growth and proper allocation of resources in respect of their separate mandates.
The new Law also provides clarity on what DIFC establishments may do outside their physical premises in the Centre. Details confirm that they may supply services and products to customers outside DIFC, providing they are primarily be done from their premises in the Centre. Marketing and promotion of their activities can be conducted outside DIFC. These are amongst key changes with the new Law.

DIFC Courts boosts ‘paperless’ mission with adoption of electronic seal ‘Ethaq’
Dubai’s DIFC Courts boosts ‘paperless’ mission with adoption of electronic seal ‘Ethaq’ IMAGE SOURCE PROVIDED

Second, another recent development in the wider DIFC ecosystem was DIFC Courts acquiring the qualified electronic seal solution Ethaq, a paperless initiative that enables digital authenticity of documents with the support of UAE PASS, the secure national digital identity platform for the UAE.

Ethaq certificate is powered by Dubai Electronic Security Center (DESC) and its Root Certificate Authority. It recognises the DIFC Courts as the first Dubai entity to acquire the entirely paperless certificate that enables court documents to be electronically signed, issued and authenticated. Ethaq also integrates UAE PASS, the secure national digital identity platform of the UAE, in collaboration with Smart Dubai, to provide an end-to-end signing solution that combines both an electronic seal and an electronic signature solution based on digitally verifiable identities.

The electronic seal Ethaq will also reinforce the security and integrity of the documentation and eradicates tampering of official documents, enabling users to digitally verify the authenticity of any legal documents through the DIFC Courts website.

H.E. Omar Juma Al Mheiri, Deputy Chief Justice, DIFC Courts, said: “As the first UAE Court to integrate this solution, we are maintaining our assertive push towards digital transformation and equipping our court users with the most advanced tools to ensure ease of accessing our services. This new innovative eService will ensure that the DIFC Courts continues to fulfil the requirements under the Dubai Paperless Strategy 2021 and create legal security and certainty for businesses in an era of technological disruption.”

H.E. Yousef Al Shaibani, Director General, Dubai Electronic Security Center (DESC), further comments, “We are pleased to mark ‘Ethaq’ as a monumental and revolutionary milestone in our journey towards achieving excellence for making Dubai the safest city in cyberspace. ‘Ethaq’ is one of DESC’s continuous efforts in adopting forefront technologies to protect Dubai digitally. This initiative reinforces the efficiency of digital services to support the city’s smart transformation and achieves the visionary goals set by the Dubai Cyber Security Strategy.”

In addition, H.E. Wesam Lootah, CEO of the Smart Dubai Government Establishment, said, “Dubai’s journey to becoming a fully paperless society continues with this important electronic seal initiative from DESC. Smart Dubai is leading the charge for the emirate to become the world’s smartest and happiest city, with the drive towards becoming paperless being a primary pillar of this aim. By going paperless across every sector through the use of the latest technology, Dubai is taking centre stage for the conservation of resources, safeguarding of the environment and the creation of digitally secure transactions. Smart Dubai is committed to striving towards making use of paper in transactions a thing of the past.”

As part of a phased approach, the ‘Ethaq’ capability will initially be secured for all court user service documents, such as DIFC Courts Judgments and Orders, with a secondary implementation wave for all DIFC Courts internal and operational documentation.

Partnership with Smart Dubai

Launched as an initiative under the Courts of the Future in 2018, the DIFC Courts partnered with Smart Dubai to create the world’s first Court of the Blockchain. Building on existing dispute resolution services, the alliance is exploring how to aid verification of court judgments for cross-border enforcement.

The partnership is tasked with creating a blockchain-powered future for the judiciary which will have far-reaching benefits, including streamlining the judicial process, removing document duplications, and driving greater efficiencies across the entire legal ecosystem. The new electronic seal initiative will complement and further reinforce the development of this parallel project relating to blockchain enforcement.

Technology has been central to the DIFC Courts’ operating model since starting operations in 2006. Among the many technologies pioneered to increase access to justice is the region’s first digitally integrated courtroom and re-engineered state-of-the-art e-Court Management System (CMS) in 2016.

As a whole, DIFC, Dubai and the UAE have positioned themselves to be leading regional players in fintech. The recent updates at present will help future solidify that.


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