An extract from The International Arbitration Review, 11th Edition

Introduction

Singapore has continued to maintain its prominence regionally and internationally as a go-to dispute resolution hub with its full suite of international dispute resolution institutions, including the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC) and the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC). The signing of the Singapore Convention on Mediation is also set to lend further weight to Singapore as a leading venue for dispute resolution. The 2018 Queen Mary University of London and White & Case International Arbitration Survey ranked Singapore as the third most preferred international arbitration seat. The 2019 Queen Mary University of London and Pinsent Masons International Arbitration Survey (International Construction Disputes) is a further testament to the statistics, with Singapore among the most common seats that respondents indicated as the preferred choice of seat for construction disputes.

There are many reasons why Singapore has emerged as one of the world's leading centres for international arbitration. These include its convenient geographical location, which is enhanced by the fact that it is a modern, clean and extremely efficient country with excellent infrastructure and world-class communications. Added to this, the government and courts have a reputation for integrity and competence that are second to none. Moreover, its courts have proven to be knowledgeable about and supportive of international arbitration.

In short, Singapore is seen as a neutral option for international parties looking to resolve their disputes through arbitration in a geographically convenient location supported by a physical, legal and political infrastructure that is sophisticated, skilled and of high integrity. There are few other venues in Asia, if any, which can claim all of these attributes.

i The Singapore legal regime governing arbitration

There are two parallel legal regimes governing arbitrations in Singapore – the Arbitration Act (AA), which governs domestic arbitrations, and the International Arbitration Act (IAA), which governs international arbitrations.

The AA applies to any arbitration where the place of arbitration is Singapore, in relation to which Part II of the IAA, does not apply. In turn, Part II of the IAA applies to international arbitrations as well as to non-international arbitrations where parties enter into a written agreement between themselves providing for Part II of the IAA and the Model Law to apply. The criteria for determining whether an arbitration is of international nature is set out in Section 5(2) IAA (read with Section 5(3) IAA). Under Section 5(2) IAA, an arbitration is international if at least one of the parties to the arbitration agreement, at the time of the conclusion of the agreement, has its place of business in any State other than Singapore or if the place of arbitration or any place where a substantial part of the obligations of the commercial relationship is to be performed is outside Singapore.

The IAA adopts the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on international commercial arbitration (Model Law), with certain amendments. Section 3(1) of the IAA provides for the Model Law (except for Chapter VIII thereof) to have the force of law in Singapore. Any departures from the Model Law are listed in Part II of the IAA. However, Section 15(1) IAA provides parties an option to opt out of the Model Law and for the AA to apply to their arbitration. In addition, given that Singapore is a signatory to the New York Convention, this Convention is given the force of law by way of Schedule 2 of the IAA.

The AA seeks to align the domestic arbitral regime with the Model Law as well and applies to arbitration proceedings commenced on or after 1 March 2002. The corollary of this is that where there are similar provisions in the AA and the IAA, 'the court is entitled and indeed even required to have regard to the scheme of the [IAA or the Model Law] for guidance in the interpretation of the [AA]'. This is consonant with the legislative intent to align the domestic regime under the AA with the Model Law.

The fundamental difference between domestic and international arbitrations is the degree of curial intervention in respect of these two types of arbitrations. In particular, while the Singapore courts adopt the policy of minimal curial intervention, the AA permits additional remedies against an award such as an appeal on a question of law, whereas the only recourse against an award under the IAA is a challenge to the award on certain limited grounds including those set out in the Model Law.

ii Arbitral institutions in Singapore

SIAC is a renowned institution both globally and in Asia. In 2019, SIAC had a record 479 new case filings with parties from 59 jurisdictions; 95 per cent were administered by SIAC and the remaining 5 per cent were cases in which SIAC was called upon to make appointments of arbitrators in ad hoc arbitrations. SIAC's international appeal continues with users from diverse legal systems; while India, China and the US retained top foreign user rankings, Brunei, the Philippines, Thailand, Switzerland, the UAE and the UK were also significant contributors. The new procedures introduced by SIAC in recent years have continued to gain traction; a total of 30 applications have been made under the early dismissal procedure by parties since the procedure was first introduced in 2016. In 2019, SIAC received 61 requests for the expedited procedure to be utilised, of which 32 were accepted, and 10 applications for the appointment of emergency arbitrators, all of which were accepted.

The Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration (SCMA) was originally established in November 2004 as a carve-out of SIAC. In May 2009, due to industry feedback, it was reconstituted and started functioning independently. The aim and focus of the SCMA is to provide a framework for maritime arbitration that is responsive to the needs of the maritime community. SCMA received a total of 41 reported case references in 2019. The fourth edition of the SCMA Arbitration Rules is to be launched in 2020.

The Singapore Institute of Arbitrators (SIArb) is an independent professional body that was established in 1981 and that focuses on the training of arbitration practitioners and arbitrators and the promotion of arbitration in Singapore. Of significance is the release in 2018 of guidelines formulated by SIArb for party representative ethics (an amalgam of overarching principles common to jurisdictions based on reviews) to aid in the creation of a consistent standard governing the conduct of counsel and representatives in international arbitration, which has become ever more important with the growing complexity and volume of international arbitration proceedings conducted worldwide.

The ICC Singapore Arbitration Group was established in June 2019, reinforcing Singapore's reputation as the gateway city for international trade and one of the most preferred seats of arbitration worldwide. The Group consists of locally based Singaporean and foreign arbitration practitioners, Singaporean arbitration practitioners based overseas, academics and corporate counsel. The Group will also have a selection committee of arbitrators that will be responsible for nominating arbitrators for ICC arbitration cases referred to ICC Singapore. This comes amid figures released that the ICC Case Management Office, which was opened in Singapore in April 2018, has already administered its first 100 cases.

On 8 August 2019, the revamped Maxwell Chambers Suites was inaugurated in Singapore, marking the world's first integrated dispute resolution complex, housing both hearing facilities and international dispute resolution institutions, including the ICC International Court of Arbitration, the International Centre for Dispute Resolution, the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the World Intellectual Property Organization Arbitration and Mediation Centre.

The Singapore office of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) was officially launched in November 2019, allowing the growing number of PCA cases administered in Singapore to be better managed and serve the dispute resolution needs of states and businesses in Asia.