S'pore set to be 'top centre for resolving commercial disputes'

SINGAPORE - The planned Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) may still be in the works, but some already see it challenging London's pre-eminence in settling commercial court disputes.

One leading British industry player said there is a strong possibility the Singapore court would steal a march on London while another suggested the English capital needs to be careful or lose out to Singapore in influence.

The specialist court to hear disputes over global business deals is slated to be set up in Singapore later this year, with a Bill due to be tabled in Parliament this week to pave the way.

The new court is part of a wider plan to position Singapore as Asia's dispute resolution hub, which includes the Singapore International Arbitration Centre and a new Singapore International Mediation Centre to be added.

Britain's Law Society Gazette last weekreported on Singapore's expansion in the area, with the pending SICC seen as a "credible threat" to London's commercial court pre-eminence.

It quoted Mr Tony Guise, chair of the Commercial Litigation Association, saying "there is a real danger Singapore and/or New York will steal a march" on London.

Mr Guise, who had sought views from members, added: "One member takes the view Singapore has the work now and it won't be letting go any time soon.

"With the rise of the Far East as a market, he believes Singapore will become the premier jurisdiction for dispute resolution in five to 10 years' time.

"Confidence placed in London's pre-eminence by way of dispute resolution clauses is, in his view, misplaced."

Separately, Mr Brian Lee, chairman of Britain's Institute of Barristers' Clerks, warned that "London needs to be careful" of the competition from abroad.

At the institute's annual dinner this year attended by Britain's Lord Chancellor, members of London's judiciary and the legal fraternity, Mr Lee said that the SICC was due to open this year "with judges on a £1 million salary, allegedly! Not enough to tempt our judges, I am sure".

Most major South Korean law firms now choose Singapore as the venue for their clients, instead of London or New York as they did before, he added.

Mr Lee also pointed out there were six lawyers from his chambers - 20 Essex Street - working on dispute resolution cases in Singapore the week the dinner was held - "flying the flag in legal exports" - while five years earlier, the cases would have been heard in London.

First broached by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon in January last year, the SICC is meant to bolster Singapore's position as a dispute resolution centre.

At a China- ASEAN Justice Forum in Nanning, China, last month, CJ Menon said that as a key centre for the convergence of legal services in Asia, Singapore was well placed to deal with global commercial disputes.

Mr Alastair Henderson, who is managing partner for South-east Asia at leading global law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, told The Straits Times in an e-mail message that Singapore has "consistently demonstrated its determination to be a leader in the global market for dispute resolution services" and that the SICC will be a key asset boost in that direction.


This article was first published on October 6, 2014.
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