Arbitrating Property Disputes in the UAE

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Arbitration is growing in popularity and now there is increasing emphasis on getting access to arbitrators who are experts in the subject matter

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Arbitration, as one form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), is growing in importance as a way to resolve property and construction disputes in the UAE. As a business community, the UAE is actively supporting arbitration as an alternative to litigation in the courts.

Using arbitrators who are experts in property and construction can reduce costs and ensure arbitral awards are based on commercial realities that the parties understand and can more readily accept.

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There is a real commitment to arbitration as an alternative to litigation in the UAE and this is evidenced by the fact the UAE is a signatory to the New York Convention on Arbitration Awards. There are clear signs too that the UAE has been rapidly improving access to arbitration by creating modern arbitration institutions and developing rules which draw on  best international practices.

Under the UAE legal system, a contract which contains an agreement to arbitrate a dispute is binding on the parties and no party can withdraw from such an agreement unilaterally. When arbitral proceedings are completed and an award has been issued, that is the end of the matter and parties may not take the same dispute on appeal to the courts.

The fact that the UAE is a member of the New York Convention on Arbitration Awards sends out a clear signal that the UAE will ensure that the courts support the decisions of arbitrators. It also reinforces the international status of awards made by arbitrators in the UAE. The Dubai International Arbitration Centre (DIAC) says that “arbitral awards made under DIAC have the same effect as final and conclusive judgments awarded by courts under the law” and “as a result of the UAE’s active participation in several regional and bilateral treaties, its arbitral awards are enforceable in many neighbouring Arab states, in addition to other countries worldwide.”

It is evident that, over the last few years, the courts have become increasingly supportive of arbitration, and are indeed leading the development of arbitration in the UAE. For example, the UAE courts have ruled that arbitration clauses are separable from the rest of a contract. This has been incorporated into the rules of UAE arbitral institutions and it means that parties cannot argue that an arbitration clause is no longer valid because the rest of the contract has been terminated. In making this ruling, the UAE courts have confirmed a principle that exists in other countries where arbitration is used viz that an arbitrator has the authority not only to determine his own jurisdiction, but also the validity of the contract which gives rise to his appointment in the first place.

Figures currently provided by DIAC reveal that the number of arbitrations taking place in Dubai has increased year on year since 2007. Interestingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the subject matter of the majority of disputes has been real estate. The increasing use of arbitration to resolve real estate disputes is crucial to business confidence in this sector and the continuing emergence of the UAE as the regional commercial centre for the Middle East.

As the number of property disputes increases, we are seeing more and more businesses choosing arbitration over slow and costly litigation. Whilst some people may argue that arbitration can be expensive, in reality it can offer a far more cost-effective and expeditious resolution than the courts. This is particularly so if the arbitrator has a great deal of experience and knowledge of the subject matter, understands the issues and arguments put forward by the parties in detail and so can deal with the arguments and evidence quickly and efficiently.

There are many other advantages to using arbitration instead of litigation. In arbitration, parties have a greater degree of freedom over the proceedings and timetable. Unlike court hearings, arbitration allows parties to resolve their disputes privately. But perhaps the most significant advantage of arbitration is the fact that parties can choose their arbitrator.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) sets, maintains and monitors high quality standards for its Members (Chartered Surveyors). The RICS is therefore able to guarantee that Chartered Surveyors who take on arbitration appointments are both experts in the subject matter of disputes and are regulated according to the highest international professional standards.

The RICS has a well-established process of training and accrediting Chartered Surveyors to be arbitrators for real estate and construction disputes. A small number of Chartered Surveyor arbitrators based in the UAE have recently been assessed and accredited by the RICS. They are the beginnings of a panel which will grow over time.

Moving forwards, the RICS will be working closely with the UAE government and courts to assist the further development and growth of arbitration in the region. The objective is to help ensure that parties will be able to easily access experienced arbitrators who have deep understanding of property and construction disputes and who can provide an internationally recognised level of cost-effective and expert arbitration.

An abridged version of this article first appeared in the RICS UAE National Association Annual Review 2012-2013 – see Publications.

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