The DIFC is fast becoming one of the leading hubs for international arbitration in the Middle East. The launch of the DIFC-LCIA in 2008 served as a testament to the UAE's commitment to providing access to arbitral institutions offering international best practices while also being adept with local and regional legal and business cultures.
Since its launch, the DIFC-LCIA Arbitration Rules have evolved to provide procedures to enhance efficiency in the arbitral process and manage the escalating costs of arbitration. The DIFC-LCIA Rules of Arbitration introduced in 2016 (the "2016 Rules"), for example, added a provision allowing the parties to appoint an Emergency Arbitrator on a temporary basis and where there was "urgency".
The DIFC-LCIA Arbitration Centre has now published a new set of Rules (the "2021 Rules"), which came into effect on 1 January 2021 and will apply to any DIFC-LCIA arbitration commenced from that date. The 2021 Rules replace the 2016 Rules and mirror the newly adopted LCIA Rules of Arbitration, which came into effect on 1 October 2020. The 2021 Rules introduce several significant amendments that accommodate the changing needs and requirements of the various stakeholders in arbitrations, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The main amendments introduced by the 2021 Rules are set out briefly below. For a more comprehensive summary of the changes, please refer to our earlier article, which addresses notable amendments to the LCIA Rules.
- Format of arbitration hearings and awards: the 2021 Rules make explicit provision for virtual hearings and confirm the primacy of electronic submissions as the default form of communication. Likewise, the 2021 Rules facilitate electronically signed awards.
- Consolidation, composite Requests, concurrent conduct of arbitrations: the 2021 Rules expand the scope of the Arbitral Tribunal's powers of consolidation and introduce the option to order the concurrent conduct of arbitrations.
- Expedition of proceedings: the 2021 Rules allow the Arbitral Tribunal to make any procedural order it considers appropriate to ensure the fair, efficient and expeditious conduct of the arbitration. Further, the 2021 Rules introduce an additional power allowing arbitrators to make an 'Early Determination' order in specific circumstances.
- Other notable amendments: the 2021 Rules make provision for tribunal secretaries and include new provisions addressing data protection, cybersecurity and regulatory issues.
The 2021 Rules bring welcomed changes addressing the ever-evolving nature of arbitration and further highlight the region's efforts to maintain international best practice in arbitration. The provisions made to enhance efficiency in the arbitral process, including for the use of electronic means of communication and virtual hearings, are no doubt a necessary development in the current circumstances and will be welcomed by the arbitration community.
Khadija El-Leithy (Trainee Solicitor, White & Case, Dubai) contributed to the development of this publication.