Singapore passes bill for Singapore International Commercial Court to hear arbitration-related matters
On 9 January 2018, Parliament passed the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Bill 2017 (the “Amendment”) giving the Singapore International Commercial Court (“SICC”) jurisdiction to hear international commercial arbitration-related court proceedings. The Amendment clarifies that the SICC can hear matters related to, among others, the enforcement or setting aside of arbitral awards that are traditionally referred to the High Court for adjudication.
About the SICC
The SICC was established in 2015 to address the need for a neutral venue for international commercial litigation for parties with little or no connection to Singapore but require a jurisdiction with strong rule of law, well-regarded and experienced judges, and high quality, efficient legal professional services.
The SICC is a division of the High Court and the High Court can on its own motion transfer appropriate cases to the SICC. To-date, 17 international cases governed by issues of foreign law have been transferred from the High Court to the SICC.
Why the Amendment matters
The Amendment crystallises the SICC’s position as an attractive international court and further cements Singapore’s reputation as a premier international dispute resolution hub in Asia.
Parties who deal with cross-border commercial transactions are increasingly choosing international arbitration as their dispute resolution mechanism of choice. With the Amendment, the SICC presents parties with a new and unique adjudication option to resolve their arbitration-related disputes.
The SICC allows foreign counsel to make submissions in offshore cases (i.e. cases with no substantial connection to Singapore) that relate to questions of foreign law. This allows for faster and more cost-efficient proceedings by removing the need for foreign law experts to testify to the content of foreign law.
However, as the Amendment concerns arbitration-related applications under Singapore’s International Arbitration Act (“IAA”), only Singapore-qualified counsel can represent parties who have submitted their cases to SICC. Senior Minister of State Indranee Rajah has however noted that “the amendments in the bill are part of [an] ongoing endeavour” so this may yet be subject to change in the future. Exceptionally, a Queen’s Counsel or equivalent may apply for ad hoc admission to the Singapore Bar to represent parties in such cases.
Comment / Future implications for the SICC
- The Amendment confirms the SICC’s jurisdiction to hear IAA-related disputes, giving parties who have opted for Singapore-seated arbitration an added option in dispute resolution mechanism.
- This is likely to lead to even more cases being transferred from the High Court to the SICC. Along with Singapore’s recent legalisation of third party funding for international arbitration-related proceedings, this will no doubt enhance the SICC’s profile as an international commercial court of choice, particularly for parties in Asia.
- It remains to be seen whether the Amendment will result in the SICC hearing Singapore-seated investment arbitration matters. In Sanum Investments Ltd v Government of Lao People’s Democratic Republic  SGCA 57, the Court of Appeal found that the IAA covers investment arbitration cases and that Singapore courts are both “competent” and “obliged” to consider relevant treaty law issues. To this end, an investment arbitration matter seated in Singapore, but with a foreign law element, may well be appropriately brought before the SICC’s internationalised bench.
- The SICC has recently added even more distinguished jurists to its already formidable bench: this includes Lord Neuberger (former President of the UK Supreme Court), Sir Jeremy Cooke (former judge of the English Commercial Court), Robert French (former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia) and Beverly McLachlin (former Chief Justice of Canada).
- The SICC’s ability to attract such legal luminaries to join its bench can only bode well for its future development. As it is, the SICC’s first ever judgment was praised as a “masterclass” and the SICC has also been feted as “a key contributor to international construction law jurisprudence”.
- The speed at which the SICC issues its judgments (usually between 1 – 3 months from the end of the hearing) is another feature that will prove attractive to commercial parties who desire an expeditious resolution to their disputes.