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Commercial Bar under fire for promoting Dubai as a world arbitration centre

Commercial Bar under fire for promoting Dubai as a world arbitration centre


UAE 'an immature' legal system that is 'subject to regular abuse', says UK charity

The British Irish Commercial Bar Association has been criticised by a UK charity for promoting Dubai as a world centre for arbitration, despite allegations of corruption, arbitrary detentions, and human rights violations levelled at the United Arab Emirates.

Detained in Dubai, an organisation that assists victims of criminal and civil injustice in the UAE, has taken issue with the Bar association holding a seminar at the University of Dubai which promotes the region's legal and arbitration systems.

The controversial seminar, due to be held in March, is a collaboration between the BICBA and the Dubai International Arbitration Centre (DIAC). The chairman of the DIAC is Dr Habib Al Mulla, who following the 2013 merger of Baker & McKenzie and UAE firm Habib Al Mulla & Company is also chairman of Baker & McKenzie Habib Al Mulla.

DiD said the UAE legal system has a 'proven track record' of corruption, legal abuse, unfair trials, denial of access to justice, wrongful Interpol reports, arbitrary detentions, and human rights violations. It also highlighted the UK High Court's reluctance to extradite defendants to the Emirates following the case of Mohammed Lodhi in 2010.

Radha Stirling, founder of the UK-based charity, said the UAE has 'an immature legal system, is subject to regular abuse, and cannot be considered a stable or competent jurisdiction for any dispute resolution or arbitration', adding that the BICBA should 'reconsider promoting a jurisdiction that systematically abuses British nationals' lest they be seen as 'supporting and condoning these violations'.

DiD made headlines last year after warning tourists in Dubai not to report rape following news that a woman who was allegedly gang raped was arrested for 'extramarital sex', and also highlighting the myriad of UAE laws that may affect unsuspecting expats. The warning came following the arrest of British man Scott Richards, who after posting a link on his Facebook page to a campaign raising money for Afghan refugees was charged with fundraising without permission.

Non-practising solicitor and DiD partner David Haigh said the UAE's judicial system is open to significant legal abuse and corruption and that until it undergoes significant reform, the DIAC cannot be considered 'a just, independent, safe, or modern dispute resolution centre'.

The former managing director of Leeds United urged the BICBA to reconsider its support of the DIAC and recommend the forum be suspended 'until the UAE confronts and addresses the significant corruption in its legal and justice system, which has not kept pace with the remainder of the very positive advances made by Dubai and the wider UAE in other areas'.

Extradition barrister Ben Cooper of Doughty Street Chambers, who has worked with DiD, commented: 'Based on my experience and knowledge, I would not recommend that the BICBA promote the DIAC as a centre for arbitration at this time. The UAE needs to address and remedy judicial failings before it should be considered as a possible legal jurisdiction of choice.'

Baker & McKenzie, Dr Al Mulla, and the BICBA have been contacted for comment.

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor of Solicitors Journal | @JvdLD