INTRODUCTION

Have recent developments in the Singapore arbitration scene contributed to a budding global vision of international arbitration? This exploration summarises how parliamentary and judicial organs in Singapore have been adding to the impetus for an emerging global standard of international arbitration that appears to be here to stay.

LEGISLATIVE FOUNDATION

The UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration ("Model Law") opened the way for national legislatures worldwide towards a possible uniform global approach to arbitration. By a UN General Assembly Resolution of 11 December 1985, it was recommended that "… all States give due consideration to the Model Law … in view of the desirability of uniformity of the law of arbitral procedures and the specific needs of international commercial arbitration practice". Singapore responded with the passing of the Singapore International Arbitration Act 1994 ("IAA") on 31 October 1994, adopting the Model Law as the legislative framework for international arbitration in Singapore.

Singapore effected certain indigenous modifications to the Model Law. Some of the main modifications to the Model Law under the IAA entailed provisions for interest to be included in an award and calculation of interest from the date of an award, at the rate of a local judgment debt. Section 23 of the IAA regulates and restricts reporting of court proceedings under the IAA otherwise than in open court. These may be seen as significant early progressive advances by Singapore in the international arbitration arena.

SINGAPORE’S MARK ON THE INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION PROCESS

The IAA has been constantly reviewed and revised to meet surfacing needs of the international arbitration process, developing a world class legislative framework to support Singapore’s objective of being a major global arbitral player. The latest amendments to the IAA as well as the Foreign Limitation Periods Act, both came into effect on 1 June 2012.

A foundational tenet of the Model Law is the principle of party autonomy, that historically undergrids the entire notion of commercial arbitration. Working hand in glove with this principle, Singapore courts have consciously sought to uphold the policy of limited judicial intervention in arbitration. This approach is typified by the ruling of the Singapore Court of Appeal in Tjong Very Sumito v Antig Investments Pte Ltd [2009] 4 SLR(R) 732 where it was famously pronounced:

"There was a time when arbitration was viewed disdainfully as an inferior process of justice. Those days are now well behind us. An unequivocal judicial policy of facilitating and promoting arbitration has firmly taken root in Singapore. It is now openly acknowledged that arbitration, and other forms of alternative dispute resolution such as mediation, help to effectively unclog the arteries of judicial administration as well as offer parties realistic choices on how they want to resolve their disputes at a pace they are comfortable with."

Yet, at the same time, a certain counter-current of opposition has appeared in some national courts re-asserting powers of review over the arbitral process. Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, then the Attorney General of Singapore, whilst speaking of the coming of a new age of international arbitration in Asia at the plenary session of the ICCA Congress 2012, also noted certain cases considered to typify a perceptible trend of judicial intervention by national courts in arbitration disputes. He referred to the Australian cases of

Oil Basins Limited v BHP Biliton Limited [2007] VSCA, 18 VR 346 and Westport Insurance Corporation v Gordian Runoff Limited [2011] HCA 37 as illustrations of how courts subjected arbitral awards to greater scrutiny by requiring more detailed reasoning to ensure the integrity of the decision making process. Then-AG Menon also discussed the extension of judicial "reach" into arbitral matters on the back of public policy, referring to the controversial UK Supreme Court decision of Dallah Real Estate & Tourism Holding v Pakistan [2011] 1 AC 763 which embarked on a detailed re-examination of an arbitral tribunal’s evaluation of arbitral jurisdiction, suggesting an exercise of extensive powers of review.

In Astro Nusantara BV v PT Ayunda Prima Mitra [2013] 1 SLR 636, the Singapore High Court actually took note of an "… English position of increasing judicial intervention", suggesting that "…the UK … has broken ranks with other Model Law countries …". By contrast, Astro Nusantara BV observed that "… Singapore has chosen the path of less curial intervention, in line with the objectives of the Model Law".

Local case law continues to evince the Singapore courts’ policy of minimal intervention and general support for arbitration. In PT Pukuafu Indah v Newmont Indonesia Ltd [2012] 4 SLR 1157, the Singapore High Court described arbitral interim and interlocutory orders as being statutorily "insulated" from curial review. International Research Corp PLC v Lufthansa Systems Asia Pacific Pte Ltd and another [2013] 1 SLR 973, illustrates the Singapore court’s willingness to uphold multi-tiered dispute resolution clauses that frequently lead to arbitration in the event of failure to reach a negotiated settlement, holding that "… an obligation to negotiate in good faith under a multi-tiered dispute resolution clause should be laid to rest".

CONCLUSION

Progressive legislation and a supportive court continue to reinforce Singapore’s manifest aims of being a strong adherent to development of an international arbitration community procedurally structured along common lines envisaged by the Model Law. It is most likely that future developments in international arbitration are unlikely to see a regression and re-assertion of curial power over alternative dispute resolution in Singapore.