The Union Internationale des Avocats held its 24th World Forum of Mediation Centres in Singapore on October 13-14. In addition to the usual high level of discourse and the unparalleled opportunity to meet new friends and keep the old, this particular Forum offered the additional opportunity to reassess the extraordinary richness of Singapore as a world center for international commerce and commercial dispute resolution.
A preliminary panel of regional leaders gave us a broad view of the scale of achievement that Singapore has attained in the field. We heard from George LIM, Chair of the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC); Nadja ALEXANDER, of the Singapore International Dispute Resolution Academy (SIDRA); Tye Beng (Joel) LEE, Chair of the Singapore International Mediation Institute (SIMI); and Loong SENG ONN, Executive Director of the Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC). Later in the day I had the opportunity to visit Maxwell Chambers to lunch with Aloysius GOH and Hazel TANG of SIMC, so I got an excellent sense of the matrix that is Singapore-centered commercial dispute resolution.
It was explained at the outset that, on the commercial arbitration end, Singapore is vital. It is the 3d most frequently named seat for international arbitration (after London and Geneva), owing to the excellence and efficiency of the Singapore International Commercial Court; the high reputation of the rules and administrative support provided by Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC); and a regimen of local laws that encourage third-party funding.
On the mediation end, the four leading institutions offer distinct but related and mutually supporting missions:
- SIMC provides mediation services for international commercial cross-border disputes, whether involving Singapore parties or not. An example was given of a dispute between a Taiwanese and a Peruvian company, in which SIMC was trusted as the provider of a mediator and home for the sessions. It has a panel of technical experts as well as a panel of 70 mediators situated in 14 countries. The web site features brief videos of the mediators. It has online filing and neutral search capabilities. Most interestingly to many of us, it has a Arb-Med-Arb procedure whereby an arbitration can commence, the matter deferred to mediation, and the settlement referred to the arbitration tribunal for issuance of a consent award enforceable through the New York Convention.
- SIMI is similar to the International Mediation Institute. It promulgates qualification and credentialing standards to contribute to the professionalization of the mediation practice in the region.
- SIDRA provides “thought leadership,” supporting forums on best practices in various fields and conducting research as well as training and education.
- SMC is the provider of mediation services for domestic disputes. Established in 1997, it is linked with the Singapore courts and, indeed, located in the Supreme Court building. Among its fields of expertise are ICANN domain name disputes, construction conflicts, and family and community disputes.
The growth of mediation in Singapore has been intense. With a population of five million, and the establishment of community mediation centers in the 1990s, the courts introduced a presumptive mediation program through SMC in 2000, accompanied by laws and rules that (for example) included an “ADR Form” to accompany all complaints and requiring counsel to certify that clients had been advised of alternatives to litigation and further requiring an “opt-out” of presumptive mediation tracks. In 2013 a working group was established to investigate the feasibility of f an initiative in international commercial mediation. SIMC was established the next year. In 2016 SIDRA was founded and court rules were further amended. In 2017 the Mediation Act was enacted to permit stays of court action pending mediation, confidentiality protections, and the recording of mediated settlements of litigated disputes as court judgments.
Taking aside the challenges of leadership that were so evidently met, and looking retrospectively, these developments were entirely in keeping with Singapore’s role as a commercial and judicial hub in the region. Asian economies are rapidly rising and Singapore is well-positioned to take advantage:
- It is stable, neutral, open trusted, with no public corruption, and a rule of law that is well-known and efficient.
- It has a suite of institutional support of international trade as well as international commercial law, including the International Commercial Court and Maxwell Chambers — a centrally-located building in which is officed JAMS, ICDR, LCIA, WIPO, and any number of other international organizations.
- It houses the offices of many of the leading 200 global law firms
- It has favorable regulatory frameworks, including tax benefits for non-resident arbitrators who conduct hearings in Singapore
The key to all this, of course, is the “magic triad” of private commercial interests, public dispute resolution institutions, and public policy. Private commercial dispute resolution in Singapore is a reflection of, and at the same time a contributor to, a collaborative vision to dominate the regional economy. While the United States retreats from engagement with this dynamic region through disavowal of the TPP, Singapore has found its role — and central to that role is highest-quality mediation and private arbitration of international commercial disputes that accompany the stupendous growth in regional and global trade.