30 Jul 2013 Posted in Speeches
Judge of the Subordinate Courts, Senior District Judge, Mr Leslie Chew SC;
President of the Singapore Institute of Arbitration (SIArb), Mr Mohan Pillay;
Ladies and gentlemen;
When Mohan first asked if I could come for this event, I had no hesitation in saying yes, because I could see the value of having a conference like this – it’s something which is timely. I look around and I see many former members of the Bar who were my colleagues before, whom I had the pleasure of appearing with or against. Today, there are also many people present from international arbitral institutes from elsewhere, and there is obviously in this room, a great collection of intellectual thought that is going to be extremely important for the kind of issues that you will be considering today.
The conference is timely also because it coincides with the growth of arbitration in the region and especially in Singapore.
Today, Singapore is recognised as a preferred venue for arbitration in the region. The Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) is doing very well and our arbitrators and counsel are highly sought after. But it didn’t happen by chance. A lot of thought and effort went into it, with a lot of contribution from the stakeholders that Mohan has mentioned – the courts, the lawyers, the various institutes, the users and the clients.
We try to work very hard to put together a holistic eco-system that would support the growth and development of the arbitration industry.
Factors contributing to the growth of arbitration in Singapore
- Perhaps, what I can do today is just share a little on some of the factors which have led to Singapore being the arbitration hub it is today and mention a few of the things that we think are important, going forward.
- A strong legislative framework. Since our adoption of the UNCITRAL Model Law in 1994 and the enactment of the International Arbitration Act (IAA) in the same year, we have continually reviewed and revised our legislation to ensure that it is on par with the best international practices, and that it meets the needs of the international arbitration community. In order to do this, we need the input of people like yourselves who can tell us what are the best international practices, what works for you, what makes for a good arbitration system. And when you give us that kind of input, then we can see what we can work into the system to make sure that it works better.
- Supportive Courts. The other factor that is very important is of course, supportive courts. Our judiciary has maintained a judicial philosophy that is supportive of arbitration, with minimal curial intervention, except where necessary.
- Open regime. The key factor is the fact that we have kept the regime deliberately open, so that parties are free to engage lawyers of any nationality and use any governing law. Non–residents do not require work permits to carry out arbitration services in Singapore, and arbitrators as well as firms engaged in arbitration work would enjoy tax incentives for arbitration work done in Singapore. Taken as a whole, all of these provide a compelling reason for stakeholders to arbitrate in Singapore.
- Infrastructure. In terms of infrastructure, we have Maxwell Chambers, our flagship arbitration facility which is purpose built for arbitration proceedings. It has best of class hearing facilities, a full suite of supporting services and houses top international ADR institutions under one roof. That was actually borne out of a committee report done in 2002, where I was a member, together with now the Minister for Law, Mr K Shanmugam as well as various other members of the Bar.
- Thought leadership. Thought leadership is another key factor. We sought to encourage greater discourse in the area of arbitration. In this regard, Singapore has and will continue to play host to various major conferences on the arbitration calendar. Last year, we hosted the International Council for Commercial Arbitration (ICCA) Conference, which was the biggest ICCA congress ever recorded and was a great success. This year, Maxwell Chambers will be organising the Singapore International Arbitration Forum (SIAF) on 2 December at the Gardens by the Bay. The theme, “Adventures with Blank sheets of Paper” promises to be an innovative and thought provoking conference on the practice of international arbitration. In addition, the Singapore International Arbitration Academy, jointly launched by the Centre for International Law and National University of Singapore, will run from 22 November – 3 December this year. And of course, there is also today’s conference. These are just a few examples of the arbitration related initiatives that have put the spot light on Singapore as a thought leader in the area of international arbitration.
“Golden Age” of Arbitration in Singapore
- Our efforts to develop the arbitration eco-system have been complemented by significant growth in intra-Asian trade, through which we have seen a corresponding increase in the use of arbitration as a preferred means of dispute resolution in this region.
- The facts and figures suggest that Singapore is indeed experiencing a golden age for arbitration.
- The total number of new cases handled by the SIAC increased from 99 cases in 2008 to 235 cases in 2012.
- In addition, the total sum of disputes arbitrated in SIAC in 2012 was S$3.61 billion, more than the total sum of disputes in 2010 (S$1.35 billion) and 2011 (S$1.32 billion) combined.
- We also know that more foreign disputing parties are choosing Singapore as the seat of arbitration. More than 80 per cent of the cases administered by the SIAC involve at least one foreign party.
- Also, we see that more law firms are using Singapore as a base for their arbitration work here and in the region. This is not just the local firms, but foreign firms with large international arbitration practices.
- That said, sustaining the golden age of arbitration is going to require the concerted effort of all stakeholders. This includes the active participation of the end users, the courts, the practitioners, counsel and the government. There is a need for parties to step back, reflect, and take stock of how far we have come and what we need to do to go further.
- I believe that to maintain the arbitration industry’s positive growth, Singapore would have to continue to work hard on being an arbitration centre par excellence – not just in terms of the case numbers, but also by upholding of the very highest ethical standards, high quality advocacy, high quality arbitrators and high quality jurisprudence. This must be the hallmark of our arbitration regime, and clients experiencing arbitrations here must go away feeling that their dispute was handled fairly and professionally, irrespective of the outcome.
- Many will recall of course, what the CJ said in his ICCA speech, where he identified potential hotspots where the interests of end users, practitioners and the courts could be in conflict. He called for the international arbitration community to self-regulate, to put in place a code of conduct and adhere to acceptable standards.
- So it’s timely, as Mohan mentioned, that today’s conference seeks to delve deeper into these issues, from the perspectives of the stakeholders in arbitration, and explore how some of these areas of conflict can be better bridged in practice. This is a crucial exercise if we are really keen in sustaining our golden age of arbitration.
- The Ministry of Law is committed to continue supporting the growth and development of the arbitration sector, and we wish to deepen our arbitration offerings here in Singapore, because arbitration is a key contributor to the success of our legal services industry.
- One growth area is intellectual property. This is an emerging and exciting area of immense opportunity. We’ve already announced our plans that we would like to make Singapore an IP hub in Asia. We’ve noticed that the patent and trademark filings are increasing worldwide, particularly so in Asia, and especially for patent filings. Globally, royalty, licensing revenues and the number of IP disputes are also rising.
- We think that it is a good time for us to position ourselves as a hub for IP dispute resolution by establishing a panel of top IP arbitrators in Singapore to enhance the international profile of our IP arbitration capabilities, and attract more IP-related cases. If you track how it has been growing, the first 10 years in the 2000s was really on general commercial arbitration, then we’ve had the development of our maritime arbitration, we’re now moving into IP arbitration. We’ll continue to identify other growth areas, where we think it will be possible to attract other arbitration cases to Singapore and to develop our expertise both broadly as well as in depth.
- We’ll continue to see how we can improve and welcome your feedback on how we can do better.
- So, I wish you all a fruitful conference, and thank you very much for inviting me to be a part of it.
Last updated on 30 Jul 2013