The Singapore International Commercial Court follows the Singapore International Arbitration Centre and shows how open it is to international business.
In July, we reported on developments in Singapore that are likely to allow third party funding of international arbitrations before the Singapore International Commercial Court (SIAC), demonstrating its rise as a recognised and integral part of the international dispute resolution landscape.
In light of a recent decision of the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), our thoughts turn to the litigation arena and how the jurisdiction is forging ahead as it aims to become not just an international arbitration centre of choice, but an international litigation centre of choice as well.
What constitutes an “offshore case”?
The SICC, established in 2015 as a division of the Singapore High Court specifically aimed at international commercial disputes, recently determined that a case was an “offshore case”, and could therefore be conducted by overseas lawyers. The Court’s Rules set out the requirements for it to have jurisdiction over a case – the key one being that the claim must be “of an international and commercial nature”.
Teras Offshore Pte Ltd v Teras Cargo Transport (America) LLC  SGHC (1) 02 started life in the High Court and was then transferred to the SICC. It comprised claims and counterclaims arising in connection with three liquefied natural gas projects in Australia, and was therefore considered appropriate for the SICC.
The Defendant applied to the Court for a decision that the case was an “offshore case” as defined in the relevant Rules of Court. The effect of such a decision would be that it would be open to the parties to be represented before the Court by foreign Counsel.
As well as relying on the Rules themselves, the Defendant also argued that the predominant purpose of the “offshore dispute” provision was to allow foreign representation. Where a case had only minimal connections with Singapore, it was to be expected the parties might wish to use foreign Counsel; and the fact this was a case with minimal connections supported the argument that the Court should make that possible by deciding it was an “offshore dispute”.
Former Judge of the Commercial Court in London, Judge Henry Bernard Eder IJ allowed the application. Although he based his decision on his interpretation of the Rules as applied to the facts of the case, he said that he “bore the predominant purpose argument well in mind”.
This case shows that international parties to disputes in the SICC may well want to be represented by their international legal advisers, rather than by local lawyers.
The decision recognises this and shows the SICC judiciary is aware of the need to make the SICC an attractive place to do business. Singapore has strong competition from London and other major commercial dispute centres. If it wishes to become a jurisdiction of choice, it will have to offer the same advantages to customers as those other jurisdictions.
One major advantage that those other jurisdictions offer is the availability of third party funding. Will it be long before the Singapore Courts follow the example of their arbitration colleagues and admit its introduction?