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Tue 28 Aug 2018 04:20 PM

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Nothing is impossible if you're determined: DIFC Courts boss

Emirati, woman, CEO, and mother of three children, DIFC Courts' Amna Al Owais can't wait for a future where justice is dispensed over the blockchain and hearings are paperless

Nothing is impossible if you're determined: DIFC Courts boss
One of the UAE's strategies is a blockchain-based government by 2020, says Amna Al Owais

Why does a court need 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 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 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.

It seems the UAE and its government 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, that we need to look into the future and try to 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 in fact 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 with the 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.

Do you have an investment budget that you tap into when pursuing these initiatives?

We look for available partners. For instance in terms of what we’re doing with e-bundling we are working on contractual agreements. It can’t come out of a one-time investment because as a public service, we are a cost centre, so we work toward our plans incrementally. The modernisation drive you see has actually been ongoing since 2009. But we have clear objectives that we work on to achieve our plans.

What is one very important aspect of driving DIFC Courts’ mission?

The constant need to build confidence in the system and in how our services are making a difference in the community. This is very important.

So a large part of your role involves relationship building?

Absolutely. Building alliances and having consensus. That is why in the last few years we have focused so much on connectivity with courts and other partners including freezones and in the private sector.

DIFC Courts has a plan to go paperless by 2021

What is your biggest fear in business?

I don’t have fears.



What excites you the most then?

The future and what we’ll be doing next. I am really intrigued by the blockchain. And I can’t wait for us to go paperless.

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 need to continue making that distinction necessarily, but about how we are contributing to the country. Of course, being a female, an Emirati, and a CEO is an achievement, but for me personally, I look at how I’m contributing by being committed, motivated and faithful to the purpose more than anything.

Having said that, you are an Emirati woman and CEO at an important institution in Dubai’s economy. What would you say to other women aspiring to similar dreams?

I would say you shouldn’t take anything for granted. You need to become determined to working hard to make a career, and be committed to your goals. With determination, nothing is impossible. And that is irrespective of being a woman or a man.

In general, do you think there are any mistakes CEOs or other leaders make that they could improve on?

It’s probably not something for me to say. If anything, I don’t think many CEOs share the mistakes they are making.

Elon Musk has been in the news for it quite a bit lately…

Fortunately, I don’t use social media. But personally, if anything, about mistakes, I think everyone makes some and they should serve as an eye opener. You shouldn’t dwell on them. Learn from them and move on. It helps build character.

Are you a tough boss?

I’m very result-oriented. I am very focused on delivery.

How do you balance work and personal life?

I am really into this new phrase ‘work-life integration’. So I blend the two. I can’t separate myself work from being a mother of three kids. So sometimes I’m at work, but there are sports days or parent teacher meetings. If I pursued a work-life balance, I would only be at work during the day, but also not be looking at emails or taking emergency calls afterward. So to be successful and survive in this world, with the way technology is rapidly progressing, with community needs, with different timezones, you need to have work-life integration.

So how many hours do you end up working each week?

A lot. But I do it all, I enjoy it, it’s good. It’s not stressful.

How do you unwind though?

It depends. As long as I’m in control I can decide if I’m happy with what I’ve done. So if I’m satisfied that I’ve spent some good time with the children then I’ll go back to emails and other things. Because work doesn’t stop, neither does life or learning. So it’s impossible to switch off from something completely.

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