Summary: The ICC, one of the Middle East’s most used arbitration institutions, has announced that it is setting up an office in Abu Dhabi’s financial free zone, the Abu Dhabi Global Market. This exciting move by the ICC is a boost for the UAE’s ambition to become a global leader in dispute resolution and gives arbitration users in the region greater choice.

Yesterday (26 July 2017), the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) announced that it is setting up an office in the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) located in the UAE. This is an exciting step for Abu Dhabi, for the users of arbitration in the region, and for the ICC which has seen a steady and consistent increase in the number of its arbitrations involving Middle Eastern parties.

The ADGM is a financial free zone located in the Capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi. It, like its longer-established rival, the Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC) located in Dubai, is an “offshore” common law jurisdiction sitting alongside the civil law “onshore” jurisdiction of Abu Dhabi. The ADGM has its own laws and court system which adopts English common law statutes and cases (including the rules and principles of equity) for all civil and commercial matters (a first for the Middle East).

“Onshore” arbitrations in the UAE are governed by the provisions of the UAE Federal Civil Procedures Code of 1998 which, at just 16 articles, is inadequate for modern day arbitration. With the recent adoption of modern arbitration laws in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, the UAE (unusually for it) is behind the curve in respect of this area of law.

However, “offshore” arbitrations, in either the DIFC or ADGM, are governed by their own arbitration laws. The ADGM arbitration law is based on the UNCITRAL Model Law; it therefore reflects international best practice, with tweaks to maximise party autonomy and control and to ensure finality of awards making it one of the most up-to-date arbitration laws in the world. Despite the ADGM Arbitration Regulations being in force since 2015, there seems to have been very little take-up of ADGM seated arbitrations. The opening of the new ICC ADGM office is bound to encourage entities that want an “Abu Dhabi” seated arbitration to elect the ADGM as its seat of choice.

The advent of the ICC opening up in the UAE also offers users a viable alternative to the Abu Dhabi Commercial Conciliation and Arbitration Centre (ADCCAC), the “onshore” arbitration centre, which is not as well-known as the ICC.

The new ICC office (which will be located within the ADGM and in the tower next to BLP’s offices) is expected to open at the beginning of 2018. The office will be equipped with state-of-the-art technology and hearing facilities and will be able to accept the registration of new arbitration cases under the ICC Rules.

We very much look forward to the ADGM operating as a busy hub for dispute resolution, something which it is extremely well placed to do.