Plans to set up an international court here by early next year to handle commercial cases were tabled in Parliament yesterday in a bid to turn Singapore into Asia's No. 1 venue for dispute resolution.
The Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), as it will be called, will draw its judges from eminent international jurists and Supreme Court judges, and give local lawyers the chance to work on high-value cross-border disputes which otherwise would not have been heard here.
Amendments that will introduce a new regulatory framework for the legal profession here were also read for the first time in Parliament. A new Legal Services Regulatory Authority, which will come under the Ministry of Law, will be set up to regulate all law firms and foreign lawyers, who will also be subject to the same disciplinary process as their local counterparts.
It will also be made compulsory for all Singapore lawyers to reveal the hours they spent doing pro bono work in the preceding year when renewing their practising certificate. The statistics, it is believed, will be used to monitor how much lawyers are contributing back to society.
Law firms here welcomed news of the SICC, which is set to build on Singapore's success in arbitration. The country is the world's third most preferred seat of arbitration, behind London and Geneva. The caseload is predominantly international, with more than 80 per cent of cases involving at least one foreign party. Last year, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) heard 259 disputes, valued at $6.06 billion in total.
Mr Alastair Henderson, managing partner for South-east Asia of global law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, said Singapore has won international respect for the success of SIAC, and the new court is the next logical step in its ambition to offer a complete suite of dispute resolution services.
"It is an essential component of this wider plan to be Asia's dispute resolution hub. The SICC will be an internationally respected court that can handle the largest and most complex international disputes, without the limitation of needing consent (from all parties concerned as is required in arbitration) for its involvement."
The SICC will be set up as a division of the High Court - which means its decisions can be enforced as judgments of the Singapore Supreme Court, while decisions can be appealed to the Court of Appeal (CA).
The proposed legislative changes also provide for international judges to be hired to hear SICC cases, as well as allow former High Court judges to be appointed as Senior Judges to hear High Court, SICC or CA cases.
This will empower the Chief Justice to call on such judges where needed to ease the hearing load of the court and to tap into particular areas of specialist legal expertise of retired judges.
This article was first published on Oct 8, 2014.
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