Jurisdiction - Singapore
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Singapore – The International Commercial Court (“SICC”): Asia’s Neutral Court.

2 December, 2014

 

Legal News & Analysis – Asia Pacific – Singapore  Dispute Resolution

 

The SICC In Brief

 

Consonant with Singapore’s drive to enhance its legal sector and remain a leading dispute resolution hub in the region, the Ministry of Law announced the set-up of the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) earlier this year. The key objectives underpinning this development, as announced by Mr. K Shanmugam, Minister for Law, are: (1) to grow the domestic legal sector by bringing offshore work into Singapore; and (2) to provide more opportunities for local lawyers and law firms to tap into Asia’s growth, making the legal sector the direct beneficiary.1

 

Framework of the SICC

 

The forthcoming SICC will be based on similar models, such as the specialist Commercial Court in London operating under the High Court of England and Wales; the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts; the Delaware Court of Chancery; and the Commercial Court of the Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia. The SICC will be constituted as a division of the High Court of Singapore and all SICC judgments will be appealable to the Court of Appeal.2 Being a division of the High Court of Singapore, it is envisioned that only members of the Singapore Bar would have the standing to represent parties in proceedings involving the SICC and that foreign lawyers will be required to register to appear before the SICC.3 To affirm SICC’s international character, amendments have also been made to Singapore’s Constitution, vide the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill 20144, to allow for the appointment of distinguished international jurists to sit on the SICC’s panel of judges for a specified period to hear specific cases as assigned by the Singapore Chief Justice. It has also been said that SICC proceedings generally will be heard in an open court, subject to parties applying for the proceedings to be heard confidentially, and they would be presided over either by a single or a panel of three judges. SICC judges would also be able to take judicial notice on foreign law based on oral and written legal submissions, hence negating the need for formal proof by experts.

 

Jurisdiction Of The SICC

 

The SICC will hear cases where: (1) the parties have agreed to the jurisdiction of the SICC after the dispute arises, (2) the parties have agreed to confer jurisdiction to the SICC over disputes arising out of or in connection with their contract or (3) cases are transferred to the SICC from the Singapore High Court by the Chief Justice.5 This will, thereby, allow the SICC to decide cases which can be heard by the High Court of Singapore in their original civil jurisdiction, and that are international and commercial in nature.6 If necessary, potential litigants may also refer to the Rules of Court and/or apply for a pre-action certificate to determine the “international” and “commercial in nature” status of any intended lawsuits.

 

Upon obtaining a SICC judgment, successful litigants would be able to enforce the same abroad by either registering the judgment under the Reciprocal Enforcement of Commonwealth Judgments Act (“RECJA“) or the Reciprocal Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (“REFJA“). In the event that neither RECJA nor REFJA applies, it has been said that SICC judgments can be enforced by virtue of their being a common law debt.

 

Conclusion

 

Being at a nascent stage, it remains to be seen if the SICC would truly become an alternative to arbitration. One thing is apparent: Its inception is a solid indicator that Singapore remains steadfast in crystallizing its position as a leading centre for dispute resolution in Asia. Finally, it would be interesting to see the efforts expended by the authorities to implement a robust and effective enforcement mechanism for SICC judgments over and above the RECJA and REFJA that are already in force.

 

End Notes:

 

1 Second Reading speech by Ministry for Law, K Shanmugam, on the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore Bill, dated 4 November 2014.
2 Press Release by Ministry of Law, “Legislative changes tabled to establish the Singapore International Commercial Court and to update the regulatory framework for the legal profession,” dated 7 October 2014.
3 Foreign lawyers may seek right of audience for matters involving little or no connection to Singapore.
4 The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill 2014 was passed on 4 November 2014.
5 According to the Report of the Singapore International Commercial Court Committee, November 2012, within the three categories, the High Court of Singapore would also be empowered to join third parties without their consent. A joinder application may also be made on the application from one or more of the litigants.
6 Second Reading Speech by Minister For Law, K Shanmugam, on the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Bill.

 

Duane Morris Selvam LLP

 

For further information, please contact:

 

Satinder Pal Singh, Duane Morris & Selvam

spsingh@selvam.com.sg

 

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