Ask An Expert: Linda Fitz-Alan

IMI chats with Linda Fitz-Alan, Registrar and Chief Executive of ADGM Courts in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.

What is your background?

I have more than 30 years’ legal experience spanning across Australia, the US and now the UAE. Prior to Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), I served as CEO and Principal Registrar of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Australia, with administrative responsibility for the Court’s 50 judges and about 200 judicial and registry staff.

In my career, I have held a number of senior legal positions, including being a Partner at two Australian law firms, Colin Biggers & Paisley and TressCox, both in Sydney, where I practised in their commercial litigation, directors and officers liability and professional indemnity insurance sections; and Senior Litigation Claim Counsel at CNA Insurance in New York City, where I monitored and advised senior management on the company’s exposure to high value and volatile claims in its directors and officers liability and financial institution professional indemnity insurance books.

How did you become involved with ADGM?

I was approached by a recruitment specialist on behalf of ADGM to consider the role of Registrar and Chief Executive of ADGM Courts. The Chief Justice of ADGM Courts, Lord David Hope, wanted to appoint an experienced registrar of a busy and well-established common law court as the Registrar of ADGM Courts, given that ADGM directly applies English common law. It was the uniqueness of ADGM’s jurisdiction and the “once in a lifetime” opportunity to establish a common law court in an international financial centre that is located in the most progressive country of the Middle East that piqued my interest. For me this was an opportunity not to be missed, and it has been a privilege. I was appointed Registrar and Chief Executive of ADGM Courts in September 2015.

Why is ADGM appointing common law legal professionals to its courts?

The appointment of senior legal professionals from the world’s leading common law jurisdictions is integral to the success of ADGM and ADGM Courts. This underlines our ambition to have a reputation as a jurisdiction with common law courts of high standing in one of the leading international financial centres in the world. It’s a very exciting time to be working in the Middle East and particularly in the UAE in such a position.

How do you think the dispute resolution processes are likely to change in the future?

We foresee a number of developments in dispute resolution in the MENA region. The value of disputes in the MENA region have been rising. The need to protect and preserve commercial relationships while a dispute is ongoing has become more essential than ever and there is relentless pressure to reduce the time and cost involved in resolving disputes. These factors are prompting parties’ advisers to look at all ways in which the process can be re-engineered and creatively changed. What may have been a stumbling block in the past could now be useful to design viable or improved options for dispute resolution. We believe that technology can play a greater role in the dispute resolution process, whether it is in the use of block-chain technology or AI assistance for document examination and disclosure, and the many more technology-based solutions to come. We also foresee parties being open to varying how they resolve a dispute; their traditional choices are no longer the default position.

Is there a growing interest in mediation in the MENA region?

I have seen growing interest and receptiveness of parties in the MENA region in relation to commercial and investment mediation. ADGM recently hosted a forum with the leading global institutions involved in developing mediation and in particular investor state mediation which, through interactive panels and a mock mediation, we discussed and analysed the challenges to mediating disputes and how to make mediation more relevant in the region. It was a very positive and dynamic discussion which has prompted ADGM to lead and promote mediation-related activities (particularly training and education) and to canvass numerous general counsel in the region to see how mediation can be more widely embraced.

What are the key challenges?

The key challenges are overcoming fears about confidentiality and the process of selecting the mediator. These are not insurmountable challenges. In time, and with exhaustive consultation, experimentation and generation of ideas, mediation can grow in acceptance and popularity and become part of the dispute resolution fabric for civil and commercial disputes.

Could a better cross-cultural dialogue improve the efficiency of international DR?

Yes, absolutely. Having worked now in a few jurisdictions worldwide, I have experienced the great advantages of cross-cultural dialogue and the exchange of information in driving transformation. It is invaluable.

We are continuously exploring cross-cultural dialogue, and indeed dialogue with other jurisdictions to promote the interaction of judicial dispute resolution in particular. We are privileged to collaborate and work closely with Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, the local Abu Dhabi courts, for the benefit of the judicial system of Abu Dhabi and the UAE as a whole. Both courts have embraced sharing ideas and information so that we can ensure we are involved in driving change in judicial services and promoting confidence in the justice system. Our respective courts are committed to improving access to justice and we are making all of our processes digitised so that the community can expect speed, efficiency and transparency with their judiciary.

We have hosted several delegations from emerging jurisdictions so that they can learn from our work with our unique ePlatform and fully digitised courtroom. We feel a strong sense of responsibility to share our ideas and experiences.

Interview by Natasha Mellersh.

Linda Fitz-Alan joined ADGM Courts as Registrar and Chief Executive in September 2015. Linda is responsible for leading the administration and operations of ADGM Courts, particularly in the delivery of its comprehensive electronic services, as well as playing a key role in the management of the cases and ADGM’s dispute resolution services. Linda has more than 30 years’ legal experience, previously serving as CEO and Principal Registrar of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Australia. At the Supreme Court, she was responsible for the successful implementation of the Court’s electronic filing and case management capability, the design, refurbishment and consolidation of the Court’s civil and criminal Registries as well as the development of its human resources and training. Linda has also been a Partner of two Australian law firms and held a senior legal position with a large commercial insurer, located in New York City, USA.

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