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DIFC Courts to launch GCC's first virtual court

Part of Small Claims Tribunal will be a ‘smart’ court to facilitate remote hearings

DIFC Courts to launch GCC's first virtual court
The DIFC Court will enable proceedings to take place over Skype.

The GCC's first ‘virtual court' is expected to launch at Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts in September.

DIFC Courts is reconfiguring part of its Small Claims Tribunal (STC) so that one room provides for remote access via Skype-type technology.

It will enable tenants, employees, small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and others making claims amounting to AED1 million ($272,000) or less to have their cases heard remotely.

At present, all parties in an SCT case must be present at a hearing, including the judge.

But Mark Beer, CEO and registrar of DIFC Courts, told Arabian Business that this should not be necessary.

He said there were many instances in small claims cases where it was difficult for the claimants to appear in court. For example, he explained, a former employee who has been made redundant and had to leave the UAE, but who is seeking payment of outstanding wages or gratuity.

Or, an SME with a small and busy workforce that might be travelling around the world securing new business but also needs to fight an overdue payment from a client.

Or, a tenant who is battling a long-running rental dispute after they have already moved somewhere else.

Beer said: "Our small claims court launched in 2009 and has been very successful, especially for rental disputes and employment issues.

"But you have to come here. In this day and age, courts need to stop feeling that they are geographically bound.

"So, we are working with Microsoft to build the region's first virtual court. You do not have to be there, the parties can beam in via video technology.

The SCT virtual court is not just about providing "access to justice", said Beer. It also feeds into Dubai's vision to become a ‘smart city', which makes use of sophisticated technology to provide better public services.

"This will be a ‘smart court'," he added, that offers a secure link to maintain the privacy of the tribunal.

The initiative is part of DIFC Courts' strategy to become ‘the world's leading commercial court' by 2021.

The strategy hinges on improving the judicial body's work in four areas, one of which is innovation, Beer said. The establishment of a virtual court is considered one way of supporting Dubai's highly mobile and technologically connected population.

DIFC Courts plans to launch the court in September. It also aims to implement a second phase of the project - a branded mobile app - at a later, as yet undecided, date.

Meanwhile, the judicial body is planning a series of initiatives in the autumn to increase awareness of the SCT among SMEs.

In the first quarter of 2016, the SCT heard claims totalling AED3.4 million ($925,000), a 50 percent increase compared to the same period last year, DIFC Courts said.

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