Litigation vs. Arbitration: Understanding the key differences for dispute resolution

July 31, 2023by Admin0
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In the realm of contract disputes, parties often have the choice between litigation and arbitration as methods of resolving legal conflicts. The decision to include an arbitration provision in a contract can have far-reaching implications for the parties involved. By examining the specific language of a “dispute resolution” clause, the parties can agree in advance that any potential legal disputes arising from the contract must be resolved through arbitration.

Before delving into the distinctions between arbitration and litigation, it is essential to grasp the fundamentals of each dispute resolution method. In this context, litigation is widely recognized as the standard approach to resolving disputes. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), being a federation of seven Emirates, boasts a Court of First Instance and a Court of Appeal in each Emirate. Additionally, there are three Courts of Cassation in the UAE—one for the Emirate of Dubai, one for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, and one for the remaining five emirates. As a civil law jurisdiction, the UAE’s constitution and laws serve as the primary sources of legislation. Although judgments from higher courts may guide lower courts, they are not legally binding. Notably, judgments are issued by judges rather than juries in the UAE’s legal system.

On the other hand, arbitration entails the agreement between two or more parties involved in a civil dispute to resolve their issues through arbitration instead of traditional litigation. Disputes are settled by an arbitral tribunal composed of one or more arbitrators, who render an award or decision. The UAE is home to several prominent arbitration centers, including the Dubai International Arbitration Center (DIAC).

Arbitration and litigation diverge in various aspects, including procedure, flexibility, expertise, enforceability, and confidentiality. Understanding these differences is crucial for parties involved in a dispute to choose the most suitable method for their particular case.

This articles offers a comparison of Arbitration to Litigation under the following heads:

  • Procedure

In litigation, the process follows a formal and structured path, initiated by filing a claim with the relevant court. The court proceedings involve presenting evidence, examining witnesses, and making arguments before a judge. Conversely, arbitration provides a more flexible and less formal process, allowing parties to customize the procedure to fit their specific needs. The arbitration agreement typically outlines the rules and procedures that govern the arbitration process.

  • Flexibility

Flexibility is another critical aspect in the comparison between litigation and arbitration. Arbitration offers greater flexibility compared to litigation. Litigants have limited control over judges, courtroom procedures, and scheduling. They must adhere to specific rules of civil procedure and evidence, accommodating the judge’s preferences. In contrast, arbitration offers more flexibility. Parties can choose their arbitrators, who are often experts in the relevant field, ensuring a deeper understanding of the subject matter and decide which set of arbitration rules to follow. They can tailor the process to their needs, including the location, timing, and procedural aspects like the language, venue, and timeline of the proceedings, providing greater convenience and efficiency of the arbitration.

  • Expertise

Arbitration allows parties to select arbitrators with expertise in the relevant industry or field, ensuring that the decision-makers possess the necessary knowledge to understand complex technical or commercial matters. This expertise contributes to a more informed and specialized resolution. In contrast, litigation relies on judges who may lack specific knowledge of the subject matter, leading to potential challenges in comprehending intricate aspects of the dispute.

  • Enforceability

Arbitration awards hold the same level of enforceability as court judgments. The New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards ensures the recognition and enforcement of arbitration awards in over 160 countries, including the UAE. Conversely, court judgments rendered in one jurisdiction may face challenges when enforced in another jurisdiction. However, it’s important to note that in certain cases, such as matters involving public policy, enforcement of arbitration awards may encounter limitations.

  • Confidentiality

Confidentiality is often a critical factor for parties involved in a dispute. In arbitration, proceedings and awards are generally kept confidential, safeguarding sensitive commercial information and trade secrets. This inherent confidentiality minimizes the risk of reputational harm and protects sensitive information from becoming public knowledge. On the contrary, litigation is generally public, with court records accessible to the public unless specific legal provisions dictate otherwise.  Court filings in lawsuits are typically accessible to the public, allowing reporters and bloggers to scrutinize the details and potentially damage the reputation and business interests of one or both parties. Courtroom proceedings can expose sensitive information, such as financial records, which the parties would prefer to keep confidential.

Other Considerations

One of the significant advantages of arbitration over litigation is cost-effectiveness. Litigation is notorious for its exorbitant expenses. Lawyers must prepare numerous court filings, hire expert witnesses, and engage outside consultants for document processing during discovery. These costs, along with the billable hours of lawyers, are generally borne by the parties involved in the dispute. Additionally, some contractual disputes may require a substantial investment of time from a party’s employees or executives during the discovery phase, further increasing the financial burden. Conversely, arbitration tends to be less expensive due to limited discovery and fewer filings and hearings involved. The streamlined process reduces opportunity costs and lessens the need for extensive employee and executive involvement.

The pace of litigation is often criticized for its sluggishness. Conversely, arbitration generally proceeds at a swifter pace, with parties experiencing a relatively short waiting period of a few months from the initiation of the process to the main hearing. The less formalized procedures in arbitration reduce potential delays arising from competitiveness between lawyers.

Another crucial distinction lies in the appeal process. In litigation, many decisions made by judges or magistrates can be appealed, prolonging the resolution and increasing costs. Appeals introduce uncertainty, as appellate courts may render partial decisions. In contrast, most arbitration decisions are binding and non-appealable, providing parties with a final resolution in a more efficient manner. While this limits the opportunity to challenge an arbitrator’s decision, it allows for quicker closure and finality.

Given the above circumstances, some of the advantages of litigation over arbitration is worth consideration here.

  • Public Record

One of the primary advantages of litigation is its public nature, as cases are conducted through the courts and become part of the public record. While some may argue that public visibility can be a drawback, it also offers a significant advantage in terms of establishing a clear line in the sand. The final judgment and court proceedings are accessible to the public, providing transparency and accountability.

In contrast, arbitration may promise privacy, but there is no guarantee that information won’t leak and enter the public domain. This can be especially problematic when facing false accusations or when trying to set the record straight in the age of social media, where rumours can quickly spread. Litigation offers a platform for a public “setting straight of the record,” which can be invaluable in limiting and even repairing reputational damage.

  • Cooperation

In dispute resolution, cooperation is vital, but it can be challenging when one party is uncooperative. Litigation provides a solution to this problem by enforcing court-mandated deadlines and requirements, making it difficult for parties to ignore or evade their responsibilities. In certain cases, the court’s powers may even facilitate the summary disposal of a dispute, expediting the resolution process.

Moreover, when dealing with multi-party disputes, the court may allow the joinder of third parties to the proceedings, which can be more challenging to achieve in arbitration and may lead to separate proceedings.

  • Precedent Value

Litigation offers a lasting benefit in the form of precedent. Court rulings in similar cases can serve as valuable references for future disputes, allowing parties to bolster their arguments. This is particularly advantageous in instances where similar spurious claims are made against an individual or business, as parties do not have to start their arguments from scratch every time.

On the other hand, one common feature of arbitration is the lack of precedent setting, even though some information about arbitral awards may become public through legal press and publications. Nevertheless, the power of precedent in dispute resolution remains a significant advantage of litigation.

  • Appeals

While appeals may not be desired when one is on the winning side, they can be advantageous from a broader perspective. Appeals provide a course of action if a clear mistake has been made during the initial trial. In arbitration, the appeal process is much more limited, making it harder to challenge an unfavorable decision.

  • Evidence

The rules governing evidence in litigation are generally more stringent compared to alternative dispute resolution methods like arbitration. This can be an advantage for parties with strong cases, as it leaves no room for speculation and conjecture. In arbitration, however, the rules regarding evidence may not be as clear, potentially resulting in outcomes influenced by factors that would typically not come into play during litigation.

In conclusion, understanding the disparities between arbitration and litigation is essential for parties embroiled in a civil dispute in the UAE. While litigation follows a formal and structured court procedure, arbitration offers flexibility, specialized expertise, enforceability, and confidentiality. Determining the most suitable method depends on the specific circumstances of the dispute and the preferences of the parties involved. With a thorough understanding of these differences, individuals and businesses can make informed decisions regarding their chosen dispute resolution method, ultimately contributing to a fair and efficient resolution of their disputes in the UAE. When parties negotiate a contract, the decision between litigation and arbitration should be carefully considered. Understanding the key differences between these two methods of dispute resolution is crucial in determining which option best suits their needs. Factors such as cost-effectiveness, privacy, speed, appealability, predictability, and flexibility should be weighed against the specific circumstances of the contract dispute. By evaluating these differences, parties can make an informed choice and achieve a satisfactory resolution to their legal conflicts.


The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the respective authors. ATB Legal does not endorse these opinions. While we make every effort to ensure the factual accuracy of the information provided in our blogs, inaccuracies may occur due to changes in the legislative landscape or human errors. It is important to note that ATB Legal does not assume any responsibility for actions taken based on the information presented in these blogs. We strongly recommend verifying information from official sources and consulting with professional advisors to ensure its accuracy and relevance to your specific circumstances.

About ATB Legal

ATB Legal is a full-service legal consultancy in the UAE providing services in dispute resolution (DIFC Courts, ADGM Courts, mainland litigation management and Arbitrations), corporate and commercial matters, IP, business set up and UAE taxation. We also have a personal law department providing advice on marriage, divorce and wills & estate planning for expats.

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