The latest amendment to the Supreme Court of Judicature act clarifies the Singapore International Commercial Court’s jurisdiction to hear matters relating to international commercial arbitration.
The Singapore Parliament passed the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Bill 2017 on 9 January, introducing amendments to the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (the Act) relating to the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC). The amendments clarify that the SICC has the jurisdiction to hear the same matters on international commercial arbitration as the Singapore High Court has under the Singapore International Arbitration Act (IAA). The amendments also remove the pre-action certification procedure for prospective applications to the SICC.
The SICC was launched in 2015 as a division of the Singapore High Court to hear international and commercial disputes. The SICC serves as a neutral forum where foreign parties can have their disputes heard before a bench of respected Singapore High Court and international judges and, in certain circumstances, be represented by foreign counsel. Together with the Singapore International Arbitration Centre and the Singapore International Mediation Centre, the SICC serves to enhance Singapore’s status as a leading facility for international dispute resolution. To date, the SICC has heard 17 high value cases involving international parties concerning issues of foreign law.
Jurisdiction of the SICC
New Section 18(D)(2) of the amended Act will state that “...the Singapore International Commercial Court (being a division of the High Court) has jurisdiction to hear any proceedings relating to international commercial arbitration that the High Court may hear and that satisfy such conditions as the Rules of Court may prescribe.”
The amendments clarify that the SICC is clothed with the jurisdiction to determine applications arising from international commercial arbitration. As such, parties to international arbitrations may apply to the SICC pursuant to the IAA instead of to the Singapore High Court in applications which include the following:
- Stay of court proceedings
- Appeal from a tribunal’s partial award determining its jurisdiction
- Enforcement of arbitral awards
- Setting aside of arbitral awards
- Subpoenas to compel the production of documents
- Subpoenas to compel witnesses to attend and give evidence at the hearing
- Interim relief applications
However, as with applications under the IAA before the Singapore High Court, applicants to the SICC are required to be represented by Singapore-qualified lawyers from Singapore law practices. Foreign lawyers are not permitted to appear before the SICC in such applications. The Singapore Rules of Court will be amended accordingly to exclude matters under the IAA from the definition of “offshore cases”.
Abolition of the Pre-Action Certification Process
The pre-action certificate was introduced to provide parties with a preliminary indication as to whether the application contemplated met the “international and commercial” threshold requirements and would therefore be suitable to be heard by the SICC. By obtaining a pre-action certificate prior to the commencement of SICC proceedings, parties could obtain assurance that their intended application fell within the jurisdiction of the SICC and would not be liable to be struck out or transferred to the Singapore High Court.
However, the feedback collated by the Supreme Court of Singapore suggests that the process was of limited use, and given that litigants and counsel are now more familiar with the jurisdiction of the SICC, the pre-action certification process has been abolished.
The Way Forward
Along with recent developments permitting third party funding in international arbitrations and court proceedings arising from international arbitrations (which were covered in our previous LawFlashes on 19 July and 9 November 2016, the latest amendments to the Act seek to solidify Singapore’s foothold as a hub for international dispute resolution and as a preferred seat for international arbitrations.
As echoed by Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance, Ms. Indranee Rajah, the government will continue to “...refine and develop this offering to meet the needs of parties...”. Future developments are anticipated and will be monitored with keen interest.