In its recently released Annual Report 2019 (the “Report”), the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (“SIAC”) continues to report strong growth and positive numbers. We provide a summary of the Report’s findings and a few key takeaways, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the unique challenges it is likely to present.
Record case filings and sum in dispute
2019 has been another watershed year for SIAC, with the arbitral institution reporting a record 479 new case filings in the past year. This was a significant increase from 2018, which had a total of 402 new case filings. Of the new cases filed, 87% (416) were international in nature; 13% (63) were domestic cases.
The total sum in dispute also rose by 14.6% to USD 8.09 billion from 2018. The average value of the new cases filed was USD 30.99 million, with new SIAC-administered cases valued at an average of USD 27.86 million. The highest sum in dispute for a single administered case was USD 1.41 billion.
Top users of SIAC
India emerged as the top foreign user of SIAC in 2019, contributing 485 cases to SIAC’s existing caseload. Whilst China (76) and the United States (65) remained in the ranks of top foreign users, countries like the Philippines (122), Brunei (49) and Thailand (39) joined these rankings for the first time, demonstrating SIAC’s growing appeal in the Asia Pacific region. SIAC’s top foreign users came from a mix of common and civil law traditions, belying Singapore’s status as a common law jurisdiction.
The geographical origin of parties for new cases remained extremely diverse, with parties coming from 59 jurisdictions ranging across the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia Pacific and the Middle East.
Parties also filed their claims across a wide range of sectors, including corporate, trade, commercial, construction / engineering, maritime / shipping, banking / financial services (including cryptocurrency and blockchain), employment, insurance / reinsurance, IP / IT, media / broadcasting and real estate, to name a few. Corporate (140) and trade (100) accounted for the most cases, with the construction / engineering (76) and commercial (77) sectors following closely behind.
SIAC made a total of 159 arbitrator appointments in 2019. 145 of these appointments were for sole arbitrators and the other 14 were three-member tribunals. The majority of arbitrator appointments (138) were made under the SIAC Rules. The rest of the arbitrators were appointed for ad hoc arbitrations or under other Rules.
Another 138 arbitrators were nominated by parties in 2019 and confirmed by SIAC.
The arbitrators appointed by SIAC were geographically diverse and came from 25 different countries. SIAC is a strong proponent of gender diversity and female arbitrators accounted for 36.5% of the total appointed arbitrators. 30.3% of SIAC’s Court of Arbitration members are women, and women constitute 60% of SIAC’s Management and Secretariat.
Usage of procedural rules
Over the past decade, SIAC has introduced a number of innovative procedures designed to facilitate increased efficiency and flexibility in the resolution of disputes. Unsurprisingly, these have been widely adopted by users. Some highlights from the Report as follows:
- The Emergency Arbitrator (“EA”) provisions have proved very popular since their introduction in the SIAC Rules 2010. In 2019, 10 EA applications were received and all 10 were accepted by SIAC. 94 EA applications have been made by parties since its introduction in 2010.
- The Expedited Procedure (“EP”) was likewise introduced in 2010 as a time and costs-saving measure for parties. In 2019, 61 such requests were received out of which 32 were accepted. SIAC has received 534 EP applications since its introduction in 2010.
- SIAC was one of the world’s first major arbitral institutions to introduce an Early Dismissal (“ED”) procedure in 2016. 8 ED applications were received in 2019. 5 ED applications were allowed to proceed – 1 application was granted, 2 rejected, and the other 2 are pending. Since its introduction in 2016, 30 ED applications have been filed, 18 allowed to proceed and 9 granted. The limited number of ED applications granted reflect the stringent threshold requirements that need to be met in order for a claim or defence to be dismissed at an early stage of the proceedings.
- SIAC also introduced its consolidation and joinder provisions in 2016. In 2019, 53 applications for consolidation were received and 31 applications were granted by end 2019. 10 applications for joinder were received and 4 have been granted as at the end of 2019.
The governing laws of 20 jurisdictions were applied in disputes referred to SIAC in 2019. Of these, Singapore law (41%) was the most commonly applied, followed by that of India (24%) and the United Kingdom (16%).
Interestingly, the governing laws of a number of civil law and mixed law jurisdictions were also applied, including China, France, Indonesia, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
SIAC has enjoyed another bumper year in 2019, particularly with respect to the number of new cases filed and the value of the disputes being heard. The impressive numbers from the Report demonstrate a consolidation of SIAC’s position as one of the top arbitral institutions globally.
While there are many encouraging signs, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to herald in a new economic downturn, not to mention creating new challenges on how disputes are to be adjudicated under the ‘new normal’. As the pandemic evolves, so have the measures taken by SIAC to adapt to these changes.
Although SIAC’s offices have been closed from 7 April 2020, it remains fully operational with all staff telecommuting in accordance with the Singapore government’s enhanced ‘circuit-breaker’ measures. Parties who wish to commence proceedings been requested to file their Notices of Arbitration via email; applications for emergency interim relief are likewise to be filed via email. All payments to SIAC are to be made via electronic bank transfers only. The Maxwell Chambers, SIAC’s usual venue for oral hearings, have also set up Virtual ADR Hearing solutions to replace in-person hearings.
Depending on the duration of the global pandemic, SIAC’s continued success in 2020 and beyond may depend largely on how the institution continues to innovate in respect to the conduct of its procedural hearings. The more successful SIAC is in implementing hearing procedures that are conducive to users kept apart by ‘safe distancing’ rules, the more confidence users are likely to have in referring their disputes to SIAC.
Given the agility with which SIAC has responded to users’ needs and concerns over the years, it would be interesting to see how the institution further innovates and responds to the challenges presented by the current crisis.
* This article may be cited as Wei Ming Tan, “The SIAC Annual Report 2019: Findings and Takeaways in the light of COVID-19” (15 April 2020) (https://singaporeinternationalarbitration.com/2020/04/15/the-siac-annual-report-2019-findings-and-takeaways-in-the-light-of-covid-19/).