Building on its success in establishing itself as an international arbitration centre, Singapore is making strides towards its growth as an international legal and dispute resolution hub  with initiatives currently being pursued to establish a Singapore International Commercial Court  (SICC) as well as a Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC).

Singapore International Commercial Court

The intention to establish the SICC was first mooted by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon on 4 January  2013, with an SICC Committee, comprising an esteemed panel of senior international and local  lawyers as well as government officials, appointed to investigate the feasibility of such a court  and tasked with reporting to the Singapore Ministry of Law on its findings.

The Committee’s report, submitted on 29 November 2013, was an 11 month long labour of love. Its  recommendations have now been welcomed by the Singapore Ministry of Law. The report was  subsequently put to public consultation which came to an end on 31 January 2014, and while feedback  arising out of the consultation period has yet to  be released, it seems likely that further steps  to progress the development of the SICC will be forthcoming sooner rather than later.

The overriding message from the Committee recognises that Singapore already benefits from a  “trusted hub status” given its well developed and reliable legal system and that the time is right  for Singapore to build on this existing infrastructure to broaden its appeal as a centre for  regional and international dispute resolution, thereby capitalising from growing cross-border trade  and investment and cementing Singapore’s status as the choice commercial and legal destination in  the region.

To achieve this aim, the Committee has made a number of recommendations regarding the organisation  of the SICC, jurisdiction, procedural rules and representation, including:

  • SICC will be established as a division of the Singapore High Court to hear intentional commercial  disputes
  • Justices will be selected from an SICC Panel comprising:
    • Supreme Court Judges
    • Ad hoc Associate Judges
    • Eminent international jurists
  • Up to three judges will hear each dispute
  • SICC will deal with three categories of cases:
    • By consent after a dispute has arisen
    • Where prescribed by the contract
    • Where transferred by the Chief Justice
  • SICC will hear cases governed by Singapore law or any foreign law chosen by the parties
  • Foreign law will not be treated as an issue of fact and will not need to be proved by way of  expert evidence
  • Where cases have no substantial connection with Singapore, parties may be represented by foreign  counsel
  • Decisions will be appealable to the Court of Appeal comprising jurists from the SICC Panel and/or  existing judges from the Court of Appeal
  • Rules based on international best practices for commercial dispute resolution are to be created  to govern proceedings
  • Cases will generally be heard in open court, but parties can apply for confidentiality
  • Enforceability of SICC judgments to be enhanced by: \
    • Multilateral government agreements (including at ASEAN-level)
    • Bilateral government agreements
    • Court-to-court arrangements

Whilst precise plans to implement these recommendations have yet to be articulated, it is plain that international objectives are at the forefront of these  innovative proposals with the SICC demonstrating its willingness to act as an international commercial body through determining disputes even where they may be subject to  foreign law, have no substantial connection to Singapore or even require representation by foreign  qualified lawyers. The key to the successful execution of these objectives will, to a large extent, come down to how the SICC develops the current proposals to ensure that its  judgments will have strong international acceptability when it comes to enforcement.

Singapore International Mediation Centre

Focus has also been placed on developing Singapore as a hub for alternative dispute resolution,  with plans in place by the Singapore Ministry of Law to establish a new independently run mediation  centre, the SIMC, as well as the Singapore International Mediation Institute (SIMI).  Recommendations have now been given by an International Commercial Mediation Working Group which has made key proposals as to the function  and purpose of the SIMC and SIMI, the products and services to be offered, and the supportive  legislative framework to be put in place.

These recommendations include:

  • SIMI will be a professional body responsible for certifying the competency of mediators and requiring continuing professional development
  • SIMI will deliver impartial information
  • SIMC will offer differentiated mediation products and services which could include case management services, deal making services, post merger facilitation and on-line dispute resolution services
  • SIMC will comprise a panel of international mediators and experts

Through these blossoming initiatives, Singapore has shown an astute recognition that the legal  world must keep up with the rapid developments in the commercial world and that taking steps towards greater harmonisation and providing an internationally acceptable  dispute resolution procedural framework to resolve commercial disputes is a critical step to addressing the current uncertainties surrounding the legal landscape and  different legal systems within Asia in particular.