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Arbitration: its role in Singapore’s Commercial Legal Services

With Singapore aiming to establish itself as a leading international financial hub, the liberalisation of legal services is necessary, and should grow alongside the country's international trade and commerce industry, according to Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his opening speech during the 21st Congress of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration (ICCA) held in Singapore on June 10 2012

Serene Sia Gerald Cheong
With Singapore aiming to establish itself as a leading international financial hub, the liberalisation of legal services is necessary, and should grow alongside the country's international trade and commerce industry, according to Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his opening speech during the 21st Congress of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration (ICCA) held in Singapore on June 10 2012.

The liberalisation of the financial sector in Singapore has led to the growth of the legal sector. One of the practice areas benefiting from this is arbitration. As a legal service provider specialising in both corporate commercial and arbitration matters, we concur with the views delivered by the Prime Minister and the chairman of the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC),Michael Pryles, that arbitration is the preferred avenue today in resolving commercial cross-border disputes. As compared to the conventional way of resolving disputes though the court system, arbitration offers better flexibility and a quicker and more cost-efficient process. This is an advantage especially when dealing with cross-border disputes which often involve cross-border cultural differences, and different legal systems and practices.

The increasing role of arbitration in Singapore in recent years is evident in the investment made in setting up Maxwell Chambers as an integrated international dispute resolution centre, as well as the development of local arbitral institutions, such as the SIAC and the Singapore Chamber for Maritime Arbitration. The SIAC plays a prominent role in arbitration services in Singapore. It does not merely provide international and domestic commercial arbitration and conciliation facilities, but also actively promotes arbitration as the preferred avenue for international commercial disputes and assists parties in arranging for the recognition and enforcement of awards in countries which are party to the New York Convention. The adoption of the UN Commission on International Trade Law (Uncitral) Model Law into the Singapore's International Arbitration Act has also rendered Singapore as a suitable venue in which arbitration proceedings can be carried out.

The support facilities and the legal environment created for arbitration have certainly increased Singapore's reputation in the international platform of both legal and commercial industries. It was reported by Michael Pryles that in the first five months of 2012, the number of new cross-border cases filed at the SIAC was double the number of cases filed during the same period in 2011. This shows that Singapore is gaining popularity as an arbitration hub that is capable of handling more international and complex commercial disputes.

The Singapore Law Minister, K Shanmugam, further announced at the 21st Congress of the ICCA that Singapore's moves to be a leading international arbitration player will include the setting up of a world-class arbitration academy – clearly an effort to develop a wider pool of experts in the legal practice of arbitration. With all the effort spent developing the international arbitration scene, it is obvious that Singapore is steering its way to achieving the goal of becoming a leading legal and commercial services hub.

Elena Ng and Gerald Cheong

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