THE DUBAI JUSTICE CEO WHO DOESN’T SWITCH OFF
AS AN EMIRATI FEMALE CEO, AND MOTHER OF THREE CHILDREN, DIFC COURTS’ AMNA AL OWAIS CAN’T WAIT FOR THE FUTURE
Why should a court think about implementing blockchain? Aside from smart contracts, enforcement of a decision right now involves passing a lot of papers around. And sending documents involves diplomatic channels, lawyers going to different jurisdictions, translations... the whole process takes months and months. With Blockchain, after consensus from different courts around the world, we can directly integrate our judgements as soon as enforcement applications are received.
This might seem a little naïve but why would this not work over email?
You can, of course, but we need to be smarter about this. Email has issues such as authorisation, authentication, or unreceived correspondence etc. We don’t have it ironed out right now, but with blockchain we’re envisioning that if there’s a judgement ready for enforcement in the US then the application process could begin automatically at the touch of a button. And then in terms of the supply chain, with smart contracts this would involve the right authorisations for the courts involved as well as the ability to reverse permissions for an application instantaneously if needed. It’s certainly something we’re working toward in the future and requires a lot of work on smart contracts, but we’re taking it one step at a time. We’re currently working toward the enforcement over the blockchain and how we deal with courts around the world.
So you already have a relationship with those courts and now you’re trying to convince them on your vision?
Yes, the vision is that the end product needs to be one where we utilise the blockchain for enforcement and for smart contract dispute resolution.
This needs to be done one step at a time in terms of initiatives involving consensus with the courts, governments and the private sector. We don’t have a specific deadline for when to achieve smart contracts yet, but in terms of blockchain for enforcement we’ll have the documentation by September and look to implement it by 2020.
The UAE government and authorities such as yours are some of the biggest pioneers of this new era of technology. Where is the drive coming from?
It comes from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed [Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai] that we need to look into the future and make it a reality right now. If you remember, it began with simply the smartphone, then smart services and the smart government and now we’re tackling blockchain. One of the strategies is a blockchain-based government by 2020. To be part of the ambition we need to be part of the vision. We can’t have it that all of Dubai adopts the blockchain and we’re left behind. So we have to be pioneers. Of course it helps that we’re a new youthful court – only over a decade old.
With all this digitalisation, is it a hard sell to get people onboard with the idea? Some people might be hesitant to involve a court where they can’t present themselves?
People change. Our generation, and future ones, are all thinking about how technology needs to serve people wherever they are. We’re using technology as an enabler rather than a replacement. And it always helps in providing better services. However, if people prefer traditional services and to come to the Court for face-to-face services then they are more than welcome to as well. We offer both options.
We are of course trying to promote these new ideas as much as possible. For instance we have a plan to go paperless by 2021. So for standard cases everything is filed electronically already. Now we’re moving toward e-bundling, for the actual hearing, where we are motivating parties to use the e-system to file documents instead of relying on paper bundles.
On a more personal note, you are a woman, an Emirati, and a CEO. What are your thoughts on that?
I’m a CEO. For us in the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Zayed empowered us many years ago to study and be part of the workplace. I don’t think we necessarily need to continue making that distinction [between men and women] about how we are contributing to the progress of our country. Of course, being a female, an Emirati, and a CEO is a proud achievement, but for me personally, I look at how I’m contributing by being committed, motivated and faithful to the purpose of my work more than anything.