Dubai creates ‘space court’ for commercial disputes

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Dubai announced Monday the creation of a “space court” responsible for settling commercial disputes related to space activities, while the Gulf emirate has in recent years shown strong ambitions to impose itself among the powers that invest space.

The court will be based at Dubai International Financial Center – Courts (Courts of the Dubai International Financial Center).

Created in 2004 to settle disputes involving companies or investors, DIFC Courts is governed by a British-inspired, common law-based and English-language judicial system, independent of United Arab Emirates law.

“The Space Tribunal is a global initiative that will run alongside (space activities), helping to build a new network of judicial support to meet the stringent business demands of international space exploration in the 21st century,” said Zaki Azmi , president of DIFC Courts, in a press release.

He said the complex trade deals that will further govern this sector “will also require an equally innovative justice system to keep pace.”

Many foreign companies already call on DIFC Courts to arbitrate their commercial disputes, but the institution did not yet have courts specializing in the space activities of private companies.

Space law is governed by international conventions and resolutions, including the UN Space Treaty, which entered into force in 1967. Several States have also signed bilateral or multilateral agreements to regulate their space activities.

But if this area was until recently the almost exclusive field of States and public actors, space has become a commercial issue involving more and more private companies.

The United Arab Emirates, a Gulf state of which Dubai is one of the seven principalities, have largely invested in the space sector in recent years.

After sending its first astronaut into space in 2019, the country launched a probe to the planet Mars last year, called “Hope”, which is due to reach its destination next week.

“It opened our eyes to the fact that the UAE needs an appropriate infrastructure, clarity and (legal) security in the event of disputes” related to space activities, Amna Al-Owais told AFP, Chief Registrar of DIFC Courts, citing as an example litigation related to satellite purchases or collisions between two devices in space.

According to the Emirati official, companies and institutions in the country, but also abroad, can appeal to the “space court”.

“The Court will apply the law of their choice, whether French, British or otherwise. It doesn’t have to be UAE law, ”Amna Al-Owais said.

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