Thursday 5 December 2013

New international court, mediation centre mooted

By Mok Fei Fei, The Straits Times, 4 Dec 2013

SINGAPORE could soon set up a new court to settle international business disputes as well as an alternative mediation centre.

Two panels led by top legal experts have recommended the moves as the Republic positions itself for the rapid growth in legal work arising from booming cross-border trade and investment deals.

A committee tasked with looking at ways to make Singapore an attractive venue for court cases for cross-border deals gone sour has proposed that a new court be set up as a division of the High Court.

The Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) is envisaged by the committee to hear business disputes between parties from different countries.

Cases will go to the SICC if the parties agree or if the contract allows for it.

Another recommendation is that judges in the new court can include foreign specialists. Foreign lawyers may also be allowed to appear.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam said at a briefing yesterday that the SICC would reinforce Singapore's position as the best jurisdiction in Asia and would boost the legal service sector.

"It will bring in a lot more work for our lawyers because even though this is international work, the likelihood is that a lot of work will go to our lawyers," he said.

Asia's growth is expected to fuel demand for legal services, as some deals inevitably sour and companies look for a legal resolution of these disputes.

Mr Shanmugam said Singapore's courts have a reputation for being neutral, independent and efficient, and the new court would provide another route to settle disputes, apart from arbitration.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon spoke in January of how the legal profession could service the wider region and mentioned the formation of a group to study the viability of such a court.

Already, Singapore is seen as the leading arbitration hub in Asia. To enhance the Republic as the destination of choice for resolving commercial disputes, an international mediation centre has also been mooted.

Legal experts in the International Commercial Mediation Working Group recommended the setting up of the Singapore International Mediation Centre.

The centre would aim to help feuding business partners work out their differences through a process of discussion using qualified mediators, in a bid to avoid the more costly arbitration or court process.

A new Mediation Act has also been proposed.

"We believe that it can be very successful in Singapore and would be an integral part of extending our lead as Asia's best legal centre," Mr Shanmugam said of the proposal.

The SICC Committee Report is available on and Mail feedback to the Ministry of Law or e-mail feedback to from now until Jan 31.

Business leaders and lawyers back proposal
By Rachel Scully, The Straits Times, 4 Dec 2013

LAWYERS and business leaders have welcomed a proposal to set up a Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) to resolve cross-border business disputes.

Mr Chou Sean Yu, who heads WongPartnership's banking and financial disputes practice, said it could change the way contracts are drawn up here.

"Singapore companies will have the additional option of including a clause to give the SICC jurisdiction over disputes which may arise in their contracts," he said. "Resolution of the cases before the SICC should prove to be more cost-effective for Singapore companies rather than litigating before the court of a foreign jurisdiction."

Mr Timothy Cooke, a foreign-registered counsel with Stamford Law Corp, said an international court could attract judges who are specialists in their fields. "Parties sometimes choose arbitration because their dispute involves expert or technical knowledge that only specialist arbitrators have," he said.

"If a commercial court could draw on such specialists as judges, it would be attractive for (businesses) operating in specialised industries to resolve their disputes there."

Technical disputes could include those involving exotic derivatives, or the construction of an offshore rig.

Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit said the new court will be particularly beneficial to two Asian parties in a commercial dispute.

"Singapore acts as a neutral forum and can offer that cultural affinity to both parties," he said. "It would also be more convenient for businesses to resolve their disputes in a similar time zone and geographical location."

The new court would also reinforce Singapore's position as a choice regional headquarters for multinationals, said president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises Kurt Wee.

But it may need time to take off. Stamford Law Corp director Daniel Chia said the main challenge would be to convince parties of the purpose of the SICC and to distinguish it from the Singapore High Court.

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