Could Singapore become the most popular destination for international arbitration? LexisPSL’s Stephanie Boyer recently interviewed me to get my thoughts on the subject. The full interview with LexisPSL can be found here.
With a revised International Arbitration Act and a modern, well-respected arbitral institution, is Singapore en route to being the most popular arbitral centre?
Singapore has already developed a strong reputation within the international business community as a preferred venue for international arbitration, not just within Asia, but globally. The sensible revisions to the International Arbitration Act over the years and the high quality of the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) have certainly contributed to Singapore’s success in this regard, but there are also several other factors which must not be overlooked. For example, many parties that conduct business internationally value Singapore as a neutral venue that is free of corruption. They have confidence in the level of professional service and efficiency within Singapore, particularly within the legal industry. The fact that many of the world’s largest banks and multinational corporations (MNCs) have their regional headquarters or a significant presence in Singapore gives them further reason to want to seat their arbitrations in Singapore.
What message do recent appointments to Singapore give, such as Judith Gill QC’s move?
We’ve seen this trend developing over the years. There has been a marked increase in the number of high-quality arbitration practitioners who ply their trade in Singapore across a sizeable number of international and local firms. All of this has contributed to:
- businesses having better access to talented arbitrators and arbitration counsel based in Singapore
- Singapore further enhancing its position as an international arbitration hub
- an increasingly competitive environment in which arbitration practitioners in Singapore are learning to operate–more and more businesses will start to look at how arbitration practitioners differentiate themselves through their areas of focus and the quality of their work
What limitations does Singapore have as an arbitral centre?
Businesses tend to think regionally when selecting a venue for arbitration. For example, European parties involved in a project based entirely within Europe would usually prefer to hear arbitration disputes in Paris or Geneva. To that extent, Singapore may not necessarily attract such disputes and, you could say, that this acts as a limitation of sorts. Having said that, each year the SIAC still manages to attract a significant number of disputes involving parties, projects or matters that have no connection with Singapore. In 2013, almost 50% of new cases filed at the SIAC fell within this category. This shows just how much regard businesses have for the SIAC and Singapore as an arbitral venue.
Furthermore, the recent trend is for businesses in Asia and South-East Asia to feature in both inbound and outbound investments across a variety of commercial sectors. This has contributed to the growing number of arbitrations seated in Singapore–and the trend looks set to continue.
How does the court’s attitude impact on Singapore as an arbitral centre?
In order for arbitration to be successful in any jurisdiction and for parties to rely on it as a speedy and cost-effective form of dispute resolution, it is crucial that arbitration practitioners and arbitrators maintain high-quality standards. Parties must also have confidence that the judiciary is fully supportive of arbitration. Singapore is fortunate to have a strong and arbitration-savvy judiciary that has developed a reputation and track record for being non-interventionist when it comes to the arbitration process. At the same time, parties have confidence that valid arbitral awards will be enforced. The court’s attitude to arbitration has been critical in allowing arbitration to thrive in Singapore.
How do you see this trend developing?
I think that over the next few years, Singapore will continue to grow its reputation not just as an arbitral centre, but also as a global dispute resolution hub. The recently launched Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) will attract high-value international commercial disputes. When considered together with the Singapore International Mediation Center (SIMC) and the SIAC, the collective offering sends a very strong signal to the international business community that Singapore is serious about enhancing its already stellar reputation as a hub of dispute resolution. In practical terms, for international businesses, the SICC gives them yet another Singapore-branded dispute resolution option to consider. I think that in time, the likes of the SICC and the SIMC will ultimately grow the pie for dispute resolution practitioners in Singapore.
Moving forward, I expect that in line with the growing trend for international technology and media businesses to target the immense market potential within the ASEAN region and in India, we will soon start to see more disputes from the technology and media sectors being determined through arbitration in Singapore.