ADGM’s Highest Court Upholds the Direct Enforceability of English Common Law and Its Canon of Precedents

November 28, 2023

On November 17, 2023, the Court of Appeal, the highest judicial body of the Abu Dhabi Global Market (“ADGM”), issued a landmark judgment in AC Network Holding Ltd v Polymath Ekar SPV1 (the “Judgment”) confirming that English common law precedents are directly enforceable within the ADGM.

The Judgment is the first ADGM case to clarify in detail how the ADGM’s incorporation of English common law into its legal system works in practice.

Established in 2013 as a financial free zone within the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”), the ADGM has become a pre-eminent global financial center, attracting trade and investment from all around the world. At the heart of its success is a regulatory framework centered on the ‘ease of doing business’. Such ‘ease of doing business’ is buttressed by the predictability and familiarity of the ADGM’s legal system, founded on English common law.

The Judgment confirms the direct applicability of English common law and its extensive but ever-changing set of precedents as the pillar of the ADGM’s legal system. This provides some contrast to the Dubai International Financial Centre (“DIFC”) (the UAE’s other leading financial free zone) which has replicated key aspects of English law through certain statutes and regulations, but not made English common law generally and directly enforceable. The ADGM free zone also differs from the legal system of “mainland” UAE, which is based on civil law.

This Judgment arrives during a golden moment for the ADGM as ‘the world’s capital of capital’, with a record number of financial institutions, asset management and investment firms and family offices opening branches within the free zone. In April 2023, the ADGM’s geography was expanded tenfold, with Al Reem Island added to the free zone’s jurisdiction.

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