Leading Singapore disputes bodies form alliance to promote city state as centre for dispute resolution

Singapore International Commercial Court forges agreements to boost attractiveness of arbitration and mediation for businesses

Edwin Tong SC Image courtesy of Ministry of Law SIngapore

Three leading Singaporean disputes bodies have banded together to promote Singapore's attractiveness for dispute resolution, with two new initiatives encouraging an integrated approach for businesses seeking to resolve their disputes in one of Asia's most popular dispute hubs.  

The Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) jointly hosted an event last week with the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) and the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC) to launch the two initiatives. 

Singapore's Second Minister for Law, Edwin Tong SC, and newly-appointed president of the SICC, Justice Philip Jeyaretnam, former global vice-chair of Dentons Rodyk, endorsed the approach in keynote speeches.  

Supported by the SICC, SIAC has introduced a model jurisdiction clause for international arbitrations seated in Singapore for use in contracts requiring a SIAC dispute resolution clause.  This will enable the SICC to act as the supervisory court instead of the High Court of Singapore.   

The new clause aims to promote SICC as the city-state's arbitral jurisdiction of choice, with both Tong and Jeyaretnam stressing its superior ability to manage business swiftly, deliver faster judgments, and assign judges well versed in arbitration, thereby delivering potential costs savings.    

Practitioners from Singaporean, US and UK law firms such as Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), Rajah & Tann and Drew & Napier contributed to the sceheme along with India's Nishith Desai Associates, King & Wood Mallesons, Japan's Anderson Mori & Tomotsune and South Korea's Peter & Kim.

HSF Singapore disputes partner Tomas Furlong, who sat on the working party, said the changes allowed actual costs recovery from applications to set aside awards, as is the case in Hong Kong. 

"The prior position of limited costs recovery was damaging Singapore's popularity," he said. “This model language and recent SICC decisions give users certainty over cost recovery, bolstering Singapore's position as a top seat.”  

SIAC's chief executive officer, Gloria Lim, said the move was a timely one that would give the centre's users the advantage of having their cases heard before SICC's international judges with rules designed with international cases in mind. 

The second initiative was a Litigation-Mediation-Litigation Protocol introduced jointly by SICC and SIMC – a move intended to enhance ADR, support for which is strong in the republic, which launched the Singapore Convention on Mediation, on the enforceability of settlement agreements, in 2019.  

The model clause can also be used in contract negotiations or by agreement after allowing parties to mediate at the SIMC after the SICC has been asked to adjudicate. The aim, said Jeyaretnam, was "to facilitate the amicable resolution of disputes through mediation… in keeping with our general principle of the expeditious and efficient administration of justice". 

"Establishing the protocol… provides clear guidance to parties on how they may attempt settlement through mediation for disputes before the SICC", with the flexibility to incorporate the model clause on agreeing on a deal or after a dispute has arisen, added Jeyaretnam. 

The new mechanism is in line with international trends in mixed-mode dispute resolution, said Chuan Wee Meng, SIMC's chief executive officer. It allowed for mediation's confidentiality, practicality and creative solutions with reciprocal recognition and registration, plus the enforceability of an international commercial court order, he added. 

Fountain Court barrister Andrew Pullen drew parallels between similar protocols agreed between SIAC and the SIMC, given that both made provision for a stay of proceedings to allow for mediation, with the option for any settlement reached to be recorded as a court order or arbitral award respectively.   

The protocol, Pullen said, provided more flexibility while preserving the SICC's powers to make interim awards. 

"These elements of flexibility are welcome and perhaps should inspire SIAC and SIMC to consider [updating their own] protocol to similar effect," he said.

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