Second Reading Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance, on Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Bill
9 Jan 2018 Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses
Mr Deputy Speaker,
- I beg to move, ‘That the Bill be now read a second time’.
- Objectives of the Bill
- The Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Bill (“the Bill”) introduces amendments in relation to the Singapore International Commercial Court (“SICC”). First, the Bill makes clear that the SICC has jurisdiction to hear any proceedings relating to international commercial arbitration that the High Court may hear under the International Arbitration Act (“IAA”). Second, the Bill streamlines the SICC’s procedure by removing the option of pre-action certification.
- The SICC was established in 2015 as a division of the High Court to hear international commercial disputes, including those governed by foreign law. The underlying objective of the SICC is to be a neutral venue for international commercial litigation for parties with little or no connection to Singapore but who need and value a neutral jurisdiction with strong rule of law, experienced and highly respected judges and access to high quality legal and professional services for their dispute resolution. It is also to broaden the suite of international dispute resolution options available to regional and international parties and to complement our already well-established international arbitration services.
- Key features of the SICC include:
- flexibility on certain procedures, for example, on rules of evidence and discovery;
- its bench which combines highly qualified and experienced local judges with high quality international judges, comprising eminent foreign jurists who can hear disputes governed by foreign law;
- the option for parties to engage foreign counsel to represent them before the SICC where the case is an “offshore case” that is to say, matters with no substantial connection to Singapore.
- Since its establishment, the SICC has heard 17 cases, with diverse subject matters including construction, investment, banking and finance, and shipbuilding, and involving parties from jurisdictions including Japan, Israel, the UAE, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia and Australia. These are all high-value cases. Two of the 17 cases included parties who availed themselves of the option to engage foreign lawyers. In the others, parties were fully represented by Singapore counsel.
- The SICC has received positive reviews for the quality and speed of its judgments. For example, the first case heard in the SICC concerned a large-scale industrial project involving business interests in Australia, Indonesia and Singapore. The SICC issued two judgments for the case, which included a claim of about USD750 million and a counterclaim of about USD59 million. The first of the two judgments was described in the Global Arbitration Review as a “masterclass” in how to deal with rules of interpretation, public policy and the implication of terms. Commentators have noted that the SICC is, I quote,
- “…an innovative commercial court designed for international commercial cases … and the option of having their disputes adjudicated by experienced commercial judges from Singapore and international judges from common law and civil law jurisdictions”.
- It has also been noted - and here I quote again -“[d]espite being in its infancy, the SICC is proving to be a key contributor to international construction law jurisprudence…”. 
- Yet another commentator has noted that most judgments were delivered within three months of the date of the last hearing and some were even handed down less than a month after being argued.
- Hearing of IAA-related matters at the SICC
- To ensure that the SICC continues to fulfil its objectives, the main amendment in the Bill seeks to make it clear that the SICC also has jurisdiction to hear the same kind of proceedings relating to international commercial arbitration that the High Court can hear, and which satisfy such conditions as the Rules of Court may prescribe.
- Under the IAA, the High Court has jurisdiction over certain matters in relation to international commercial arbitration. For example, parties can apply to the High Court to seek the setting aside of an arbitral award given in Singapore.
- Since the SICC was set up as a division of the High Court, it has always been the intention that parties should be able to appear before the SICC for IAA-related matters. Clause 2 of the Bill makes this position clear. Accordingly, parties may choose to commence an action in the SICC for an IAA-related matter, where the conditions in the Rules of Court are satisfied. A case may also be transferred to the SICC from the High Court (and vice versa) in accordance with transfer requirements as set out in the Rules of Court.
- Parties in these arbitration cases will benefit from the added option of having their applications heard by the SICC judges whose expertise covers a range of civil and common law jurisdictions. These are jurists of the highest calibre, hailing from diverse geographical backgrounds such as Australia, Continental Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, the UK, the US and Canada. Many of them are also very experienced in arbitration law.
- Allowing the SICC to hear matters relating to international commercial arbitration will also increase Singapore’s attractiveness as a seat of arbitration, primarily because the widely acknowledged high quality of the bench hearing arbitration related matters will now be further enhanced by the inclusion of the international judges who sit on the SICC.
- Representation by Local Lawyers
- Currently, only Singapore-qualified lawyers in Singapore law practices may appear before the High Court for IAA and IAA-related matters. There will be no change to this status quo.
- The IAA is part of Singapore law, with features that are tailored for the Singapore arbitration landscape, and there is a developed body of local jurisprudence based on our Courts’ interpretation and application of the IAA provisions, which Singapore lawyers are well versed in.
- Hence parties which have arbitration related matters heard in the SICC must be represented by Singapore-qualified lawyers. Foreign lawyers, who may be registered to represent parties in an “offshore case” as defined in the Rules of Court, will not be able to appear before the SICC in respect of IAA matters. This will be so notwithstanding that the foreign lawyers had represented the parties in the original arbitration. The Rules of Court will be amended accordingly to clarify that an “offshore case” does not include matters under the IAA.
- Pre-Action Certification
- Finally, Clause 3 of the Bill removes the option of applying for a pre-action certificate. When the SICC was established, it was envisioned that potential parties should have the option of applying for a pre-action certificate to certify that the intended action is international and commercial in nature, and can therefore be heard by the SICC. However, feedback received by the Supreme Court has been that the procedure has been of limited utility. It will therefore be removed.
- The SICC’s early successes place Singapore in a good position to continue to serve as a leading centre for the resolution of international commercial disputes. We will continuously refine and develop this offering to meet the needs of parties to such disputes. The amendments in the Bill are part of this ongoing endeavour.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, sir, I beg to move.
“SICC hands down first judgment”, Global Arbitration Review (24 May 2016)
“Victory at Singapore International Commercial Court”, Simmons & Simmons News (25 Sep 2017)
“SICC continues to grow international construction law jurisprudence”, Corrs Chambers Westgarth Corrs in Brief (16 June 2017)
“The Singapore International Commercial Court – Two Years On”, King & Wood Mallesons Insights (29 May 2017)
Last updated on 09 Jan 2018