Opening Address by Indranee Rajah S.C., Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Law and Ministry of Finance, at the Singapore Institute of Arbitrators' 35th Anniversary Annual Dinner

Mr Chan Leng Sun, S.C., SIArb President, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I.    Introduction

1.    It gives me great pleasure to be here tonight, to share in celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the Singapore Institute of Arbitrators, or SIArb.

II.    History and Accomplishments of SIArb

2.    SIArb has grown steadily over the past 35 years. The 1st Council of the Singapore Institute of Arbitrators, or SIArb, was elected on 2 April 1981.

3.    SIArb began as a national body for arbitrators, with 25 founding members. Under the leadership of various Presidents, it has grown in the number and quality of its services, and its stature as an arbitral institution:

o    It has focused on educating and training arbitrators, and has conducted courses, seminars and events to bring participants from across the industry together.

o    It has stepped up in promoting arbitration and providing training and courses in Singapore and the region. This has raised the Institute’s profile overseas.

o    In addition, SIArb’s Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Scheme was implemented as a framework to ensure the continuing professional development of its members. 

o    The Institute is also the appointing arbitration centre to administer arbitrations under the Private Education (Dispute Resolution Schemes) Regulations 2010, and the Estate Agents (Dispute Regulation Schemes) Regulations 2011, which provide consumers with quick and affordable avenues to resolve their disputes. 

o    The membership of the Institution has also grown to almost 900 members from 23 countries.

 

III.    Growth of International Commercial Arbitration in Singapore and the Region  

4.    SIArb’s growth is in tandem with the growth of the International Arbitration ecosystem in Singapore.

5.   Singapore has been successful at building itself as an arbitration hub.

o    It ranks among the world’s top seats for arbitration, alongside London, Paris, Geneva, and Hong Kong.

o    For the last five years, we have consistently been the number one seat for ICC arbitration in Asia.

6.    Our success has been fuelled by growing demand for dispute resolution services in the region.

o    Arbitration has grown as a choice of dispute resolution system for the international business community.

o    With Asia’s growth in trade and business, regional demand for legal services, including arbitration, is expected to increase.

o    Law firms and lawyers will benefit from the increase in international arbitration activity here.

7.    But the task of staying a successful arbitral seat is getting tougher, with competition from other arbitral seats and from other viable alternatives to arbitration (e.g. international courts).

IV.    Advancing our Lead in International Commercial Arbitration

8.    For Singapore to retain our competitiveness in dispute resolution, especially arbitration, we need to be nimble and sensitive to the market. This includes understanding what disputing parties and clients are looking for, and how we can value add.

o    Currently, people come to Singapore because we are a trusted jurisdiction, governed by a firm belief in the rule of law. There is trust in our legal and dispute resolution system. We are also known for our efficiency and the quality of our legal talent.  

o    Businesses choose arbitration because it accords them flexibility to control their processes and timing. Arbitration also enables businesses to appoint arbitrators with the expertise and know-how to achieve a fair resolution. However, if the system disappoints them, they will move to other dispute resolution options or jurisdictions where they feel their commercial needs and expectations are better met.

9.    In addition to our ongoing efforts to grow dispute resolution, the Committee on the Future Economy’s Legal and Accounting Services Working Group, which I co-chair, seeks to transform Singapore into a trusted global centre of exchange for financing, brokering, structuring, and resolving disputes in international commercial transactions. The subcommittee report has not been released yet. We are waiting for the main committee report to be published at the end of this year or early next year, before the subcommittee report is published. However, I can assure you that it contains many strategies to promote the growth of the legal and accounting services, and that dispute resolution plays a big part.

10.    International commercial dispute resolution has been identified as a key area to drive further growth.

11.    Other areas of growth include project finance, projects and infrastructure, restructuring, developing Singapore into a hub for corporations, and risk management and corporate governance. Even in these areas, dispute resolution expertise and capabilities are needed to complete the ecosystem.

12.    To stay ahead, we need the concerted effort of all stakeholders to be aware of current trends and issues in international dispute resolution, and to strive to provide solutions to some of these issues.

 

a)    Institutions

13.    In arbitration, our flagship arbitration centre, SIAC, is constantly striving to improve itself and stay relevant to the international arbitration community.

14.    SIAC formed a Users’ Council in September 2015 to provide user feedback on SIAC Rules and international arbitration process. This will ensure that SIAC’s rules stay ahead of international best practices.

15.    SIAC also constantly updates its processes to remain relevant. It has just released the results of its Costs and Duration Study, which affirmed its position as a global leader for quality and efficiency in cross border dispute resolution.

16.    As I have mentioned, SIArb also continues to grow. Through its training programmes and framework for continuing professional development, SIArb can strengthen Singapore’s reputation by helping our arbitrators and counsel update and improve their technical and professional knowledge, and adhere to high standards.

17.    Given its diverse membership base which spans more than 20 different countries, SIArb is also well positioned to extend its wings into the region. This will support not only SIArb’s growth, but also Singapore’s position as a leading jurisdiction for international commercial dispute resolution. 

b)  Government

18.    On the Government’s part, we regularly review and where necessary, revise, our legislation to ensure that it is on par with the best international practices.

19.    A reform that we are currently undertaking relates to third party funding in international arbitration. We have observed its evolution over the years and recognise its role in international arbitration in major arbitration centres around the world.

20.    After consulting widely and working with experts to shape our proposals, we are introducing legislation to provide a legal framework under which third party funding for international arbitration proceedings can take place in Singapore. We also support SIArb’s work to develop guidelines for Third Party funders.

21.    These reforms will support other efforts to enable Singapore to retain its leading position among competitor arbitration centres.

22.    The Government also continues to ensure that we maintain our open regime, and strong dispute resolution infrastructure in the form of Maxwell Chambers.

23.    Today, Maxwell Chambers is a sought after venue for many international dispute resolution institutions around the world. In fact, to meet rising demand for space, Maxwell Chambers will soon expand to triple its current size. Service offerings to users and tenants will also be upgraded.

c)    Arbitrators / Counsel

24.    However, while the Government can provide supporting framework and infrastructure, and institutions can stay relevant and competitive, arbitrators and counsel play a crucial role in growing and maintaining our lead in international commercial arbitration.

 25.    Singapore’s legal professionals like yourselves contribute to this growth.

o    You can capture international demand for Singapore’s legal and accounting services, by marketing and promoting Singapore as a venue and seat for dispute resolution.

o    You can drive thought leadership in identified growth areas, through research and standard-setting, and

o    You can become future-ready, building up the ability to provide clients with strategic, holistic and trusted business advice.

26.    Arbitrators play an important role in ensuring trust in the system, through sound and enforceable awards delivered in a timely manner, and fair, efficient and effective management of the arbitral process.

27.    Good awards cannot come out of poorly presented cases. Counsel must also raise standards if the sector is to continue to thrive. And this applies to the quality of advocacy and case management, and service. Counsel also need ensure that costs remain constantly competitive, so that we retain our cost advantage for clients.

28.    Arbitral institutions are taking active steps to address these, but in non-administered arbitration, responsibility rests on arbitrators and counsel not to destroy confidence in the process and the Singapore brand.   

29.    Arbitration counsel are also increasingly expected to understand the business concerns of clients, and ensure that parties are well-advised on their options and the cost consequences of these. Our advice needs to be client-centric. For that purpose, counsel need to acquire

o    Multi-disciplinary skillsets and business orientation. Many do have these skillsets, but there is room for improvement;

o    Familiarity with technology. Technology is developing very quickly, and if we don’t keep up, we’ll be left behind; and

o    Core strengths of strong technical skills and knowledge, specialist expertise and knowledge of specific sectors, regional knowledge and networks, regional legal expertise, and knowledge of client industries and needs. These are the things that clients want.

 30.    We also need active champions for Singapore’s dispute resolution regime, who can work as Singapore Inc. to promote us as the seat and venue for arbitration and other dispute resolution processes.

o    The Government will continue to promote, support and invest in Singapore arbitration and other forms of international commercial dispute resolution services.

o    We will partner with the profession, Singapore-based institutions, and public agencies like IE Singapore to do so.  

31.    As key stakeholders and beneficiaries of Singapore’s success in this sphere, SIArb members must play an active role in promoting Singapore as a seat and venue. For example, members could lend support to Singapore by responding to international and industry surveys like the Queen Mary International Arbitration Survey, or the Global Arbitration Review’s Arbitration Surveys. As Singapore Arbitration grows in repute, the entire dispute resolution ecosystem will benefit.  

V.    Conclusion

32.    On the celebration of SIArb’s 35th Anniversary, we look back on the growth of the institution and the sector over the past 35 years.

33.    It is something we can be proud of.

34.    And we are committed to the development of the arbitration sector. It is a key contributor to the success of our legal services industry. 

35.    To see further growth, a concerted effort is required: both from the Government, and from all stakeholders to ensure that Singapore Arbitration becomes the indisputable leader in Asia.

36.    With the continued collaboration of institutions, arbitrators and counsel, I am confident that we will bring Singapore arbitration to even greater heights.   

 Thank you, and have an enjoyable evening ahead.

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