Singapore’s latest offering for dispute resolution

In January 2015, the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) joined the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) and the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC) in a triumvirate of dispute resolution institutions at the heart of Singapore’s plan to establish itself as the centre for dispute resolution in Asia.

The SICC – which was officially launched on January 5, 2015 – is positioned as the Asian centre for resolving international commercial disputes. It aims to be more attractive to international users than the domestic courts, offering a panel of international judges; the possibility of foreign legal representation; the determination of foreign law on the basis of submissions; the exclusion of Singapore’s laws of evidence; and limits to the right of appeal.

Judges

The judges of the SICC comprise both the local judiciary as well as a panel of international judges. The inaugural panel of 11 international judges includes both civilian and common law jurists from around the globe. They are:/p>

  • Patricia Bergin, chief judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales (Australia)
  • Roger Giles QC, former judge of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and judge of the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts (Australia)
  • Dyson Heydon AC QC, former judge of the High Court of Australia and the New South Wales Court of Appeal (Australia)
  • Irmgard Griss, former president of the Austrian Supreme Court (Austria)
  • Sir Vivian Ramsey, former judge of the High Court and judge in charge of the Technology and Construction Court (England and Wales)
  • Sir Bernard Rix, former judge in charge of the Commercial Court and Lord Justice of Appeal in the Court of Appeal (England and Wales)
  • Simon Thorley QC, IP law specialist and former deputy High Court judge and deputy chairman of the Copyright Tribunal (England and Wales)
  • Dominique Hascher, judge of the French Supreme Court (France)
  • Anselmo Reyes, former judge of the Court of First Instance in Hong Kong in charge of the construction and arbitration list and the commercial and admiralty list (Hong Kong)
  • Yasuhei Taniguchi, former chairman of the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization Dispute Settlement Body and professor emeritus at Tokyo University (Japan)
  • Carolyn Berger, former judge of the Delaware Supreme Court and vice chancellor of the Delaware Court of Chancery (United States)

Rules and practice directions

The SICC’s rules and practice directions have been specifically formulated to hear cross-border commercial disputes. Some of the salient features are as follows:

Jurisdiction – The SICC enjoys jurisdiction to hear cases that can be heard by the Singapore High Court in its original civil jurisdiction if (i) the claims are of an international and commercial nature; (ii) the parties have submitted to the Court’s jurisdiction under a written jurisdiction agreement; and (iii) the parties do not seek any relief in the form of prerogative orders.

Joinder of third parties – The SICC has the power to join third parties to an action, even if the third parties are not parties to a written jurisdiction agreement and do not consent to being joined as a party. However, the SICC is unlikely to exercise this power if the third party will be in breach of an arbitration agreement. A state or the sovereign of a state may not be made a party to an action in the SICC (whether by joinder or otherwise) unless the state or the sovereign has submitted to the jurisdiction of the SICC under a written jurisdiction agreement.

Foreign legal representation – Parties may be represented by foreign lawyers in cases which have no substantial connection to Singapore (‘offshore cases’), as well as in cases where the subject matter or issues in dispute give rise to questions of foreign law.

Laws of evidence – Parties may apply to exclude the application of Singapore’s laws of evidence.

Confidentiality of proceedings – Proceedings will generally take place in an open court, but parties will have the option to apply for the proceedings to be confidential.

Right of appeal – Decisions of the SICC may be appealed at the Singapore Court of Appeal, although parties will be allowed to contractually exclude or limit this right of appeal.

Enforcement – In contrast to international arbitral awards that are enforceable by way of the New York Convention, SICC judgments have the status of a Singapore High Court judgment. Their enforceability will depend on the principles governing the recognition of foreign judgments in the relevant enforcement jurisdiction.

It remains to be seen whether the SICC will enter into memoranda of understanding with other courts on enforcement issues, or related international conventions.

Although much work lies ahead for the SICC, the various parts of Singapore’s plan to position as the leading centre for dispute resolution in Asia are now set firmly in place as we enter the year ahead.