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.