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Virtual small claims Dubai-style ‘could work here’, solicitor MP says

A new virtual small claims tribunal used to settle disputes in Dubai could work in the UK, a delegation of politicians heard this week. MPs visited the Dubai International Financial Centre to learn about how the courts there operate and the role they play in attracting businesses to the United Arab Emirates. The delegation was welcomed by Reem Al Shihhe, chief operating officer at DIFC Courts. Included in the visit was a trip to the DIFC Courts’s smart small claims tribunal, launched in October last year and billed as the region’s first ‘virtual court’. The court comes equipped with video conferencing technology that enables individuals or small and medium-sized enterprises to participate in hearings from anywhere in the world. The court handles cases valued at up to AED500,000 (£110,000). Various cross-border treaties allow reciprocal enforcement between DIFC Courts and other global counterparts. Speaking after the event Alistair Burt, MP for North East Bedfordshire and a qualified solicitor, said he could see the system working in the UK. ‘If the law becomes more accessible then justice will become better served,’ he said. Burt said there is video evidence available in UK but that he was also interested in the mediation processes the MPs witnessed, which were also carried out via video link. He added: ‘If parties agree to handle it by video you could have a system where if someone has contracted a small claim against someone but they are in another part of UK, they can go to a county court and be videod and it would take the cost out of it. I can see that working.’ DIFC Courts has agreements in place that allow reciprocal enforcement of money judgments. Courts included in the agreements are the Shanghai High People’s Court, the Commercial Court of England and Wales and the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

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