At the opening of the legal year on 5 January 2015, the Singapore International Commercial Court (“SICC”) was officially launched by the Chief Justice of Singapore, Mr Sundaresh Menon. The launch of the SICC aims to further promote Singapore as a neutral forum for international dispute resolution, alongside the Singapore International Arbitration Centre which started more than a decade ago, and the Singapore International Mediation Centre which launched in November 2014. The SICC is a division of the Singapore High Court and has the same powers as the High Court. The Panel of SICC Judges currently consists of 15 Singapore Judges and 11 International Judges.
The SICC is a court-based dispute resolution mechanism and is an alternative to arbitration, which has been the primary means of international commercial dispute resolution. The SICC would be suitable in cases involving multiple parties or where the dispute may not be arbitrable, which includes special torts arising from contract, international intellectual property or trust disputes. Like arbitration, parties are able to opt into the SICC regime by including a dispute resolution clause giving the SICC jurisdiction. However, cases within the High Court’s jurisdiction can also be transferred to the SICC by the Chief Justice and this may be done without the consent of the parties.
SICC vs. Arbitration
The following are brief highlights of the distinction between SICC and arbitration proceedings:
Decisions of the SICC can be appealed to the Court of Appeal and parties are free to agree to limit or vary the scope of appeal. In contrast, there is a limited right of appeal in arbitration as provided for in the Arbitration Act and the International Arbitration Act.
Joinder of Parties
SICC has the power to join third parties to the proceedings even if they did not submit to its jurisdiction under a written jurisdiction agreement, i.e. without consent. There is no requirement that the claims by or against a person sought to be joined to the action must be of an international and commercial nature. In contrast, third parties cannot be joined to arbitration proceedings without consent since arbitration is founded on consent.
Cases before the SICC are not bound by domestic rules of evidence and the court may specify applicable rules of evidence, to the extent provided for in the Rules of Court. For example, questions of foreign law can be determined on the basis of submissions rather than through expert evidence, which is traditionally required under Singapore’s laws of evidence. In addition, parties may make an application for other rules of evidence to apply whether they are found in foreign law or otherwise.
SICC judgments are ultimately Singapore court judgments and thus face the same difficulties with regards enforcement in foreign jurisdictions. In contrast, there is an obligation on Contracting States of the 1958 New York Convention to recognise the arbitral awards as binding and to enforce them in accordance with their rules of procedure. There are currently 149 Contracting States, all of which allow arbitral awards issued in another Convention State to be enforced as a matter of course.
Even though there are challenges faced by the SICC, especially with regards enforcement of its judgments in foreign jurisdictions, the SICC fulfils a very important function which is lacking in the region – a court-based dispute resolution mechanism specialising in the settlement of international commercial disputes. The launch of the SICC is welcomed and will definitely increase the profile of Singapore as a dispute resolution center and contribute to the development of Singapore law and Singapore legal services.
This update is for general information only and is it not intended to constitute legal advice. JTJB has made all reasonable efforts to ensure the information provided is accurate at the time of publication.
Deputy Managing Partner
JTJB Singapore Office