Dubai arbitration cases jump to fresh record as construction disputes predominate

DIFC-LCIA Arbitration Centre posts 18% increase in caseload in 2019; 2020 poised for another record year


The Dubai International Finance Centre Arbitration Institute and the London Court of International Arbitration’s Arbitration Centre saw cases rise for a fifth year in a row as construction-related disputes continue to predominate.

The DIFC-LCIA Arbitration Centre posted an 18% increase in cases in 2019 to 80, according to its annual report, which was published to coincide with Dubai Arbitration Week. The value of claims also increased, doubling to $1.25bn from $600m in 2018.

The majority of disputes (36%) were focused on the construction and infrastructure sector, which has driven law firm lateral hire activity across the UAE, including in Dubai. Property disputes made up almost 15% of the total, while retail and food and beverages both made up 9%, with the remainder spread across other industries. Energy cases made up roughly 5% of the total.

Essam Al-Tamimi, senior partner of Al-Tamimi & Co, the DIFC-LCIA’s chairman, said the centre had benefitted from the DIFC’s growth as a financial hub, being trusted by many across the world as a place to do business. 

While UAE users of DIFC-LCIA made up 58% of cases, the centre also saw increased use from the wider Middle East, as well as the US, EU and Africa, continuing a trend from 2017 and 2018.

Robert Stephen, registrar of the DIFC-LCIA, said: “We are set to have another record year in 2020, having already registered as many cases as in 2019 including record numbers of arbitrations in the year to-date, an increase of 49% on last year.”

User demand, said Stephen, had led DIFC-LCIA to hire two new counsels: Christian Blank, formerly of White & Case, and Antonín Sobek, formerly of arbitration boutique Three Crowns. Matthew Harley was also promoted to senior counsel.  

His staff, Stephen said, had “worked exceptionally hard to respond to the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic,” which had included arranging virtual hearings, managing the impacts of lockdown, as well as partnering with external legal media providers to host this year’s Dubai Arbitration Week virtually. The centre’s chief executive Alec Emmerson said his staff “had performed seamlessly despite the difficulties of 2020.” 

Emmerson added that the DIFC-LCIA plans to update its arbitration and mediation rules in 2021 following changes made by the LCIA to its own rules, further modernising its offering to meet client needs. 

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