Disputes

Courts and tribunals

Are there any specialised tribunals that are dedicated to resolving construction disputes?

Yes. There are specialised tribunals to address disputes arising out of construction and supply contracts under the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act 2004 and the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2000.

While there are no specialist construction courts in Singapore, the General Division of the High Court of Singapore typically places construction disputes before judges experienced in construction law and disputes, and the Singapore International Commercial Court has a specialist Technology, Infrastructure and Construction (TIC) List with specialist TIC judges and additional case management features to address complex construction disputes.

Dispute review boards

Are dispute review boards (DRBs) used? Are their decisions treated as mandatory, advisory, final or interim?

Whether or not DRBs are used, and if so, whether their decisions are mandatory, advisory, final or interim, typically depends on the particular contract and the DRB used, such as those provided in International Federation of Consulting Engineers (or FIDIC) standard form contracts.

The Ministry of Law launched the Singapore Infrastructure Dispute-Management Protocol 2018 (SIDP) to assist with dispute management and avoidance for mega infrastructure projects, designed and recommended for construction or infrastructure projects of at least S$500 million. The SIDP is intended for parties’ incorporation into their contracts and provides procedures for the establishment of a dispute board (DB) for the purpose of matters which form the subject of the parties’ agreement. The appointment of DB members is selected from an agreed panel, and can include appointments by authorised appointing bodies such as the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC). The SIMC’s appointment of DB members is drawn from its Specialists (Infrastructure) Panel, a list which comprises experts with the appropriate experience in resolving complex infrastructure disputes.

The Building and Construction Authority has introduced an Option Module E (Collaborative Contracting) to the Public Sector Standard Conditions of Contract (PSSCOC), which may be adopted in addition to the PSSCOC terms. The collaborative principles in Option Module E include a dispute board based on the SIDP. A decision made by the DP, known as a ‘Determination’, is binding on each party upon its receipt.

Mediation

Has the practice of voluntary participation in professionally organised mediation gained acceptance and, if so, how prevalent is the practice and where are the mediators coming from? If not, why not?

Mediation has gained increasing acceptance as a means by which construction disputes can be resolved.

Under the courts’ civil procedure rules, all parties to the litigation have an obligation to consider whether some form of alternative dispute resolution, including mediation, might enable them to settle the matter without commencing or continuing court proceedings. The court may consider the parties’ conduct in attempting or refusing offers of amicable resolution in determining any issue of costs.

Singapore is signatory to the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (Singapore Convention). Under the Singapore Convention, a mediated settlement agreement that has been concluded in writing by the parties to resolve an international commercial dispute can be recognised and enforced in a convention state as if it were a court judgment or an enforceable arbitral award.

Providers of mediation services include:

  • the Singapore International Mediation Centre, which has a Specialists (Infrastructure) Panel comprising experts with experience in resolving complex infrastructure disputes; and
  • the Singapore Mediation Centre, which includes mediators with construction experience (including construction lawyers, architects, engineers and quantity surveyors).
Confidentiality in mediation

Are statements made in mediation confidential?

Statements made in mediation are typically confidential, subject to any overriding public policy considerations, disclosures as required or allowed by statute, law or order of court, and any confidentiality provisions in mediation agreements.

Arbitration of private disputes

What is the prevailing attitude towards arbitration of construction disputes? Is it preferred over litigation in the local courts?

Parties to construction disputes often refer their disputes to arbitration instead of litigation. Commonly used standard form contracts often provide for institutional arbitration under arbitral rules of institutions such as the Singapore Institute of Architects or the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC).

Whether parties refer their disputes to arbitration or litigation often depends on the dispute resolution mechanism in their construction contracts. For instance, it is typical for public sector construction contracts to provide for referral of disputes or differences to arbitration.

Governing law and arbitration providers

If a foreign contractor wanted to pursue work and insisted by contract upon international arbitration as the dispute resolution mechanism, which of the customary international arbitration providers is preferred and why?

There is no evident preference for any customary international arbitration provider, although the SIAC and the ICC are common choices.

The choice of the seat of arbitration determines the governing law for the arbitration process and is down to party preference at the time of contracting. Singapore law and courts are generally seen as supportive of the rule of law and pro-arbitration, with minimal interference in arbitration proceedings unless there is good reason.

The choice of law of contract determines the governing law that determines the substantive contractual rights of the parties, and is a question of party preference at time of contracting.

Dispute resolution with government entities

May government agencies participate in private arbitration and be bound by the arbitrators’ award?

Yes.

Arbitral award

Is there any basis upon which an arbitral award issued by a foreign or international tribunal may be rejected by your local courts?

Singapore is a signatory to the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Arbitration Awards and the Singapore courts will recognise and enforce an award rendered by a tribunal in the territory of another contracting state.

Generally, domestic arbitrations are governed by the Arbitration Act 2001, and international arbitrations are governed by the International Arbitration Act 1994 (IAA).

Subject to the IAA, the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration substantially has force of law in Singapore.

The reasons for refusal to enforce a foreign award under the IAA are limited to the following:

  • a party was under some incapacity at the time the relevant arbitration agreement was made;
  • the arbitration agreement was invalid;
  • a party was not given proper notice of the appointment of the arbitrator or of the arbitration proceedings;
  • the award was made outside the jurisdiction of the arbitral tribunal;
  • the composition of the tribunal or the arbitral procedure was not in accordance with the parties’ arbitration agreement or, failing such agreement, the laws where the arbitration was conducted;
  • the award has not yet become binding on the parties or has been set aside or suspended by a competent authority in the jurisdiction where the arbitration was conducted;
  • the dispute between the parties was not capable of settlement by arbitration under the laws of Singapore; or
  • to enforce the award would be contrary to the public policy of Singapore.
Limitation periods

Are there any statutory limitation periods within which lawsuits must be commenced for construction work or design services and are there any statutory preconditions for commencing or maintaining such proceedings?

The relevant statute is the Limitation Act 1959.

An action founded on a breach of contract or tort has a statutory limitation period of six years from the date on which the cause of action occurred.

Where the damage suffered is a latent defect, the statutory limitation period is three years from the earliest date on which the plaintiff first had both the knowledge required for bringing an action for damages in respect of the relevant damage and a right to bring such action (if this three-year duration expires later than the six-year limitation period for actions founded on a breach of contract or tort), with an overriding long-stop limitation period of 15 years from the date on which there occurred any act or omission that is alleged to constitute negligence, nuisance or breach of duty; and to which the injury or damage in respect of which damages are claimed is alleged to be attributable (in whole or in part).