Last Monday, 5 January 2015 marked the start of the legal year in Singapore and with it the opening of its latest court – the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC).
With an initial make-up of 11 current and former judges, hailing from a combination of seven common and civil law jurisdictions (Australia, Austria, France, Hong Kong, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States), the SICC aims to become the World court for international commercial disputes and is the latest development in an ongoing concerted effort by the Singaporean government to make this island state the centre for arbitration and mediation in the region that first began way back in July 1991 with the establishment of the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) and has, more recently, included the opening of the Singapore International Arbitration Academy in 2012 to help develop practitioners´ arbitration knowledge and skills and the Singapore International Mediation Court (SIMC) in March 2014.
As the epicentre of international trade increasingly moves from the more court litigious West to a more negotiated dispute resolution culture in the East, there is little doubt that this strong initiative by Singapore will pay dividends in the near term. Indeed, with already near to US$2 billion in annual revenue for Singapore-based legal services practitioners, it could be said that it already is.
While it can also undoubtedly be said that Singapore’s aggressive marketing of itself as a centre for mediation and arbitration work – which includes a very generous tax treatment on revenues generated locally for this type of work – is aimed at the slightly older, and previously more successful, Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC), it’s hard to see how these developments cannot have anything but a negtative impact on the ambitions of the Federal and NSW State governments to promote the Australian Centre for International Arbitration (ACIA) as the regional centre for arbitration and mediation resolution work. Indeed it will be interesting to see what, if any, response the Federal government, NSW government and ACIA have to these latest regional developments.
In the meantime, Singapore’s proximity to India, its long tradition of being a proponent of the rule of law, as well as the ongoing preparations for ASEAN integration later this year are all likely going to go a long way to helping ensure that the SICC achieve its ambition of becoming “Asia’s First Choice” for commercial dispute settlements.