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17 Jul 2015

Singapore’s new forum to resolve international commercial disputes a boon for Indian companies

Although India is an attractive market and investment destination, it is also true that foreign investors are daunted by the inordinate delays that occur in our legal system. The number of courts, judges and overall infrastructure is grossly inadequate relative to the volume of cases the system is called upon to adjudicate. It is estimated that more than 35 million cases are currently pending before various Indian courts. With this kind of pendency, it is not surprising that disposal of cases often takes several years (and even decades). The situation in countries such as Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan etc. is not very different. Especially in commercial matters that often involve large sums of money and/or reputation, delays in obtaining verdicts have significant consequences for the parties involved.

Singapore has been a seat of arbitration and mediation for some years now following the establishment of Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) and Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC). In the last couple of years, the Singapore Government began the process of creating a new dispute adjudication forum specifically for international commercial disputes. This process culminated in January 2015 with the formation of the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC). This is a division of the Singapore High Court. The SICC has already appointed specialist judges from various countries including the UK, USA, Japan, Australia, France, etc. in order to create credible expertise in adjudicating on foreign law. The parties to a commercial agreement can, while drafting their contract, choose this forum for adjudication of any disputes that may arise. It is important to note that to use the SICC, it is not necessary for either party (or both) to have a place of business in Singapore.

Compared to an arbitral forum, a forum such as the SICC has many advantages.  One significant aspect is that its judgement is that of a competent court. In SICC, a foreign law need not to be proved as a question of fact and can be decided on the basis of submissions. The SICC has the authority to keep the entire dispute confidential (something that is not easy in India). The Court may choose to hear the matter in camera and decide to not to reveal information or documents to third parties. The judgments of the SICC may be appealed before the Supreme Court of Singapore. Parties can limit the appeal option by waiving their rights to appeal in the contract. Since the decision of SICC is a judgment of the High Court of Singapore, it will be enforced in other countries as a foreign judgment.



As per Section 44 A of the Indian civil procedure code, India has signed a reciprocal agreement with Singapore. A judgment of the Singapore High Court can thus be executed as a foreign judgment in Indian courts. Singapore recently signed The Hague Convention on choice of court. The US, Mexico and all European Union members are signatories to this convention. This essentially means that the choice of parties to select SICC (or Singapore) for dispute adjudication cannot be challenged in countries that have signed The Hague Convention.

The SICC is an attempt to strike a balance between the court system and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms including arbitration. As the SICC is a part of the Singapore High Court, non-arbitrable matters can also be tried there. The SICC is in its early days yet and it will definitely take a couple of years for it to evolve as a respected court with rich precedents. However, it could well be a boon for citizens (and other legal entities) of neighbouring countries to fast-track the adjudication process at least with regard to their commercial disputes. 

Disclaimer: This write-up reflects the author’s personal views and should not be considered as the firm’s view. This write-up is meant for general informational purposes only, and not as advice or opinion.

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