On 1 April 2013, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) made 3 announcements to further enhance its position as a pre-eminent international arbitral institution.
The changes come at a time of continued growth of the SIAC. For example, in 2012 SIAC saw 235 filings, a year-on-year increase of 25%. The total sum in dispute was in excess of 3.6 billion Singapore dollars, and these 2012 arbitrations involved parties from 39 jurisdictions. A significant number of the filings are from parties based in China, India, Indonesia, USA, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
The first announcement is that of a new governance structure, with the creation of a Court of Arbitration to oversee the case administration and arbitral appointment functions of the SIAC. The Court of Arbitration comprises 16 arbitration practitioners from across the world, and is led by its President, Dr Michael Pryles.
The creation of a Court of Arbitration effectively hives off those functions from the SIAC Board of Directors, which will continue to focus on the operation and development of SIAC's business and compliance with the applicable laws. The obvious parallel here would be to the ICC Court of Arbitration and the LCIA Court, though the specific mechanics for each court differs. Under the 4th and 5th editions of the SIAC Rules, draft awards are submitted to the Registrar to "suggest modifications as to the form". It remains to be seen if this role will be taken up by the SIAC Court of Arbitration in future editions of the SIAC Rules, and if so to what extent will such oversight take.
The second announcement relates to the publication of a revised set of SIAC Rules (5th Edition, 1 April 2013). Consequential changes have also been made to the 3rd and 4th editions of the SIAC Rules, which are expected to be in use for some time to come in certain cases. Both announced changes are with immediate effect.
As regards the new SIAC Rules (5th Edition), it is for the most part the same as the 4th Edition. However, there are some of the key changes as summarised below.
The President is defined to include the Vice President (of which there are two) and the Registrar. The Registrar, in turn, is defined to include any Deputy Registrar (of which there is one). Effectively, this means there are now up to five persons who can discharge the duties of the President. This will be of interest particularly in relation to arbitral appointments and removals of arbitrator(s). The Court is defined to include a Committee of the Court. Committee is in turn defined to mean any committee consisting of at least two of the 16 members of the Court. This will be of particular interest in cases of challenges to the identity of the arbitrator(s), the existence or validity of the arbitration agreement, or the competence of SIAC to administer the arbitration before the Tribunal is appointed. A new provision has also been inserted stating that the President, the Court and the Registrar are not required to provide reasons for their decisions, and that any rights of appeal or review in respect of any decisions are waived.
The Registrar is now expressly empowered to extend or shorten time lines prescribed under the SIAC Rules. A notice of arbitration is also deemed to be complete for the purposes of the commencement of the arbitration if the Registrar determines that there has been "substantial compliance" with the requirements of the SIAC Rules.
The Tribunal now has an additional power to decide issues that have not been expressly or impliedly raised by parties in their Rule 17 submissions, provided that such issues have been clearly brought to the notice of the other party and the other party has been given an adequate opportunity to respond.
The SIAC is now expressly authorised to publish any award with the names of the parties and other identifying information redacted, without the need for the parties' consent before publication.
The ability of the parties to interview any witnesses or potential witnesses prior to his/her appearance at any hearing has now been limited to those witnesses that may be presented by that party.
Various other miscellaneous changes and clarifications have also been made. For example, the definition of an Award has been tightened, as has the provisions on costs. The notice of arbitration no longer requires a reference to the contract as "other instrument (e.g., investment treaty)" would also suffice.
Similarly, communications no longer require "independent" records of delivery for service to be effective, and the old express provision empowering the Registrar and the Tribunal to require proof of authority from party representatives and legal practitioners has also been removed. The provisions on interest have also been changed to remove the old restriction on the period for which the Tribunal may award interest.
The third announcement is that SIAC is scheduled to open new offices in Seoul, Mumbai and also in the Gulf in the near future. As will be apparent from the foregoing, the planned introduction of overseas offices signals SIAC's continued ambition to be part of the very small class of arbitral institutions with a global reach. Once again, the parallel is with the ICC and the LCIA, which both have allied offices and partnerships in various jurisdictions worldwide.