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Starting an arbitration proceeding
What is needed to commence arbitration?
In an institutional arbitration, the rules of the relevant arbitral institution set out the requirements which must be satisfied in order to commence arbitration proceedings. These requirements must be satisfied by the claimant.
However, if the arbitration is ad hoc, the Arbitration Act and International Arbitration Act provide that the arbitration is deemed to have commenced when the claimant requests that the dispute be referred to arbitration and this request is received by the respondent.
Are there any limitation periods for the commencement of arbitration?
Yes. The Limitation Act (Cap 163) and the Foreign Limitation Period Act (Cap 111A) determine the limitation periods for the commencement of arbitration proceedings in Singapore. The Limitation Act applies to arbitrations where the substantive law governing the dispute is Singapore law, while the Foreign Limitation Period Act applies to arbitrations where foreign law is the law which applies to the substance of the dispute.
Under the Limitation Act, the statutory limitation period for cases founded on contract or tort is six years. The Foreign Limitation Periods Act states that questions of limitation are substantive (as opposed to procedural) issues, and are determined by reference to the law of the contract (as opposed to the law of the seat). Thus, in a Singapore-seated arbitration where the law governing the substantive dispute is foreign law, the limitation period will be determined by application of that foreign law.
Are there any procedural rules that arbitrators must follow?
In an institutional arbitration, an arbitrator must adhere to the procedural rules of the relevant arbitral institution. On the other hand, where the arbitration is ad hoc, the arbitrator must comply with the procedural rules set out in the Arbitration Act or the International Arbitration Act (as the case may be).
Apart from what is provided in the rules of the relevant arbitral institution and the applicable act, the parties are free to agree on the procedural rules that should apply to the arbitration. For instance, they may agree to adopt the International Bar Association Rules on the Taking of Evidence in International Arbitration.
Are dissenting opinions permitted under the law of your jurisdiction?
Can local courts intervene in proceedings?
The local courts cannot intervene in arbitration proceedings. However, the parties may apply to the local courts to determine applications regarding:
- a challenge to an arbitrator’s appointment;
- a challenge to a tribunal's jurisdiction; or
- the removal of an arbitrator for failure or impossibility to act.
A party may also apply to the local courts for interim measures pending the constitution of the tribunal.
Can the local courts assist in choosing arbitrators?
What is the applicable law (and prevailing practice) where a respondent fails to participate in an arbitration? Can the courts compel parties to arbitrate? Can they issue subpoenas to third parties?
Under the Arbitration Act and the International Arbitration Act, the tribunal may continue with the arbitration if the respondent fails to participate. However, the tribunal will not regard the respondent’s non-participation as an admission of the claimant’s allegations.
A tribunal has no power to compel parties to arbitrate or to issue subpoenas to third parties. However, the Arbitration Act and the International Arbitration Act empower the local courts to issue subpoenas requiring a third party to testify or to produce documents in an arbitration.
In what instances can third parties be bound by an arbitration agreement or award?
As arbitration is founded on consent, a third party generally cannot be bound by an arbitration agreement or an arbitral award except in limited circumstances, such as where:
- the arbitration agreement was assigned or novated;
- the arbitration agreement was entered into by an agent;
- the corporate veil should be pierced; or
- third-party beneficiaries are concerned and the Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act (Cap 53B) applies.
Default language and seat
Unless agreed by the parties, what is the default language and location for arbitrations?
The Arbitration Act and the International Arbitration Act are silent on the default language and location for arbitrations. These matters must be determined by the arbitral tribunal in the absence of agreement between the parties. However, for institutional arbitrations, the rules of the relevant arbitral institution may contain provisions regarding the default language and location of the arbitration.
How is evidence obtained by the tribunal?
The tribunal is free to determine the procedure by which evidence should be gathered. Evidence is generally presented to the tribunal by the parties as part of the adversarial process. However, the International Arbitration Act provides that, unless the parties have agreed otherwise, a tribunal has the power to adopt inquisitorial processes (although this is unusual).
The tribunal usually convenes an oral hearing for the presentation of evidence. In some cases, it may decide to have the proceedings conducted on the basis of documents only.
In the course of the arbitration, the tribunal may also make orders or give directions for:
- discovery of documents;
- giving of evidence by affidavit;
- samples to be taken from, observation of or experiments to be conducted on any property which is or forms part of the subject matter of the dispute; and
- preservation, interim custody or sale of any property which is or forms part of the subject matter of the dispute.
What kinds of evidence are acceptable?
Both documentary and oral evidence are acceptable.
Is confidentiality ensured?
Arbitration proceedings are regarded as confidential in nature. Even if the matter is escalated to the local courts (eg, where an application to set aside an award is filed), the parties to the arbitration may apply to have the hearing conducted in chambers and for the court file to be sealed.
Can information in arbitral proceedings be disclosed in subsequent proceedings?
No, unless the parties agree to such disclosure or the court orders that such information be disclosed.
What ethical codes and other professional standards, if any, apply to counsel and arbitrators conducting proceedings in your jurisdiction?
The relevant professional standards for counsel are set out in the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules 2015. These rules apply to every solicitor with a valid Singapore practising certificate and foreign counsel registered or regulated under the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161).
No national ethical codes or professional standards apply to arbitrators in Singapore. However, the various arbitral institutions may have their own ethical codes or professional standards which apply to arbitrators presiding in arbitrations governed by the rules of the relevant arbitral institution. For instance, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) has a Code of Ethics for an Arbitrator that applies to all arbitrators presiding in SIAC arbitrations.
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