The Singapore High Court has dismissed challenges brought by the Lippo Group in respect of 5 domestic international arbitration awards rendered against them pursuant to an SIAC arbitration in Singapore between the Lippo Group and the Astro Group (the “Singapore Awards“). Readers who are interested in finding out more about the background to this case can read our previous post here. The decision itself, Astro Nusantara International BV and others v PT Ayunda Prima Mitra and others,  SGHC 212 can be found here.
This decision confirms the Singapore judiciary’s attitude in support of international arbitration, the enforcement of arbitral awards and party autonomy. This is entirely in line with the pro-arbitration stance of the Singapore Government as well. As the High Court noted (see paragraph ), “[t]he pro-arbitration stance taken by the [Singapore International Arbitration Act] privileges party autonomy and the finality of awards, and espouses limited curial intervention“.
Some of the highlights of the decision are set out below.
First, there were actually four applications decided by the High Court but only two related to the enforceability of the Singapore Awards. The other two related to two Singapore court judgments that the Astro Group had obtain in terms of the Singapore Awards in 2011 (the “2011 Judgments“). The High Court noted that only 1 of the 3 named defendants of the Lippo Group, PT First Media TBK (formerly known as PT Broadband Multimedia TBK) (“First Media“) was represented in the hearing before it. Accordingly, the 2011 Judgments remained “valid, binding and conclusive in terms of their existence and legal effect against [the 1st and 3rd Defendants]” (see paragraph ).
Second, First Media had not sought to set aside the Singapore Awards per se. Instead, it had challenged the 2011 Judgments and had requested that the Singapore High Court refuse recognition and enforcement of the Singapore Awards underlying the 2011 Judgments (see paragraph ). However, in so doing, the High Court considered that First Media was essentially seeking to reopen and challenge the tribunal’s ruling that it had jurisdiction in one of the Singapore Awards. This was despite the fact that there had been no challenge by First Media of that award under Article 16 (jurisdiction) or Article 34 (setting aside of awards) of the Model Law previously. The effect was that the prescribed time limits under each article had since lapsed.
Accordingly, the High Court considered that the threshold question (and in fact the determining question) was whether “there [was] a statutory basis for [First Media] to invoke lack of jurisdiction as a ground to resist or refuse enforcement of the Singapore Awards” (see paragraph ).
The High Court held that once the time limits had lapsed, the International Arbitration Act did not permit the challenging party to assert either Article 16 or Article 34 as grounds for setting aside the Singapore Awards or for the Singapore courts to refuse recognition and enforcement of the same. The sole exception to this time bar was section 24 which allowed the Singapore Courts to set aside an award on two grounds additional to those in Article 34 i.e. fraud and breach of natural justice. Neither of these two grounds had been asserted by First Media.
In this respect, the High Court rejected First Media’s attempt to import Article 36 of the Model Law into the International Arbitration Act because section 3(1), which gives the Model Law force of law explicitly excludes Article 36. Article 36 would have permitted First Media to resist recognition and enforcement of the Singapore Awards on jurisdictional grounds notwithstanding the time bar in Article 16 and Article 34.
Third, the High Court considered that the UK jurisprudence on arbitration was out of line with the rest of the Model Law countries and that “any sensible discussion of the Model Law must draw heavily from arbitration law in civil law jurisdictions” ([see paragraph  and ).
Fourth, the High Court considered that the English position of late reflected “increasing judicial intervention” whereas Singapore’s approach was one of “less curial intervention, in line with the objectives of the Model Law“.
According to a Straits Times report, Lippo’s solicitors are studying the decision for a potential appeal of the High Court decision.
We will have an upcoming post which will examine the takeaways from this decision especially for arbitration users.