Singapore has joined the European Union, the United States, and Mexico in signing the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements (Convention). The move paves the way for greater access to the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) for litigants from those jurisdictions.

That is because the Convention aims to promote international trade through uniform rules on court jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments in civil and commercial matters. It does so by providing a framework to facilitate mutual enforcement of forum selection clauses in international commercial transactions. The Convention has not yet come into force.

The Convention applies only to choice-of-court agreements concluded between parties in international civil or commercial transactions. These agreements must take the form of an exclusive choice-of-court clause designating one Contracting State. Contracts on certain matters, such as employment and family law, regarded as either better dealt with by more specific existing instruments or being within exclusive national jurisdictions, are excluded.

Where the Convention applies, the court(s) of the designated Contracting State should hear the case, unless the choice-of-court agreement is null and void under the law of that state. The courts of non-designated Contracting States should decline to hear the case, save for stipulated exceptions (e.g., where the agreement is null and void, the court of the designated Contracting State has decided not to hear the case, or where giving effect to the agreement would lead to manifest injustice). The judgment rendered by the court of a designated Contracting State must be recognised and enforced in other Contracting States, save for where a ground for refusal applies.

Singapore’s signing of the Convention provides an entry point for international disputes to flow into the SICC. Launched this past January, the SICC offers litigants the option of having their disputes adjudicated by a panel of specialist commercial judges from Singapore and international judges from both civil law and common law traditions. In certain circumstances, litigants are also in a position to instruct non-Singapore counsel to represent them in the SICC.

The Convention, and the establishment of the SICC, will work to attract the international business community to designate Singapore courts as the forum of choice. The international business community will have a mechanism to ensure that disputes are adjudicated by an efficient and transparent forum comprising international jurists of stature. The Convention will also bring a welcome sense of order to the existing forum selection regime, providing greater certainty to businesses engaging in cross-border transactions.