The 2015 litigation scene started with a bang with the formal launch of the Singaporean International Commercial Court on 5 January.
The Court was established to expand on Singapore’s growing success in arbitration. The City State has seen a vast increase in arbitration disputes since its centre was established in 1991. In 2012 cases jumped by a quarter to 235 - not too far off those handled by London and Hong Kong's arbitration centres.
The Court, including three former senior UK judges: Sir Vivian Ramsey QC, Sir Bernard Rix QC and Simon Thorley QC are among 11 international judges of the SICC who will hear transnational commercial disputes.
Reuters reports that research firm MarketLine predicts that legal service revenues in Asia Pacific are forecast to grow to $121 billion by 2016, up 40 percent over 2011 levels.
While the Court will undoubtedly add weight to the region’s growing dispute resolution offering, it does face an obstacle – namely the ability to ensure the rulings can be enforced.
Apparently Singapore plans to form bilateral or multilateral government agreements and court-to-court arrangements to ensure rulings are respected.
The Court is also providing a unique service, in that it plans to offer litigants with no substantial connection to the City State, the option of being heard confidentially.
Benefits such as confidentially in litigation and Singapore’s geographic location and proximity to commercial hubs in the South East has led some to state that the Court will “siphon away more legal business from rivals like London and Hong Kong [which does not have a commercial court].”
Whilst this may be true, it is also worth noting that in research last year, South East Asia and East Asia each made up less than 5% of commercial cases heard in London.
If it made up such a small proportion of cases in London, is it is really fair to say that the Singaporean ICC is now ready to challenge the domination of the London courts?
Perhaps the two centres will simply complement each other area and continue to be seen as a growth and corresponding ‘seat’ to US and UK law firms with networks there?
Either way, I think a visit to the new court for research purposes – and potentially to Raffles for a Singapore Sling – is on the cards soon!