The International Arbitration Review: Singapore


In spite of the unprecedented and widespread effects of the covid-19 pandemic on global business and the consequential disruptions faced by judicial systems the world over, Singapore has been quick to leverage its position as a global leader in technological adaptation, innovation and efficiency; successfully adapting its processes to ensure a seamless and efficient provision of its complete set of dispute resolution options to the global community. In doing so, Singapore has continued to steadily enhance its prominence regionally and internationally and has reaffirmed its place as a preeminent dispute resolution destination, with its full suite of international dispute resolution institutions, including the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC) and the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC). The ratification of the Singapore Convention on Mediation, which came into force on the 12 September 2020, is also set to lend further weight to Singapore as a leading venue for dispute resolution. The 2018 Queen Mary University of London and White & Case International Arbitration Survey ranked Singapore as the third most preferred international arbitration seat, and the most preferred Asian seat.2 The 2019 Queen Mary University of London and Pinsent Masons International Arbitration Survey (International Construction Disputes) is a further testament to the statistics, with Singapore among the most common seats that respondents indicated as the preferred choice of seat for construction disputes.3

There are many reasons why Singapore has emerged as one of the world's leading centres for international arbitration. Not least because of its convenient geographical location as both an important air and sea hub, which is enhanced by the fact that it is a modern, clean and extremely efficient country with excellent infrastructure and world-class communications, but also because of its firm respect for the rule of law, and a distinctly pro-globalisation and pro-business attitude. Added to this, its government, legal fraternity and courts have a reputation for integrity and competence that are second to none. Moreover, its courts have proven to be experienced, knowledgeable about and strong supporters of international arbitration.

In short, Singapore is seen as a neutral option for international parties looking to resolve their disputes through arbitration in a geographically convenient location supported by a physical, legal and political infrastructure that is sophisticated, skilled and of high integrity. There are few other venues in Asia, if any, that can claim all of these attributes.

i The Singapore legal regime governing arbitration

There are two parallel legal regimes governing arbitrations in Singapore – the Arbitration Act4 (AA), which governs domestic arbitrations, and the International Arbitration Act5 (IAA), which governs international arbitrations.

The AA applies to any arbitration where the place of arbitration is Singapore, in relation to which Part II of the IAA, does not apply.6 In turn, Part II of the IAA applies to international arbitrations, and non-international arbitrations where parties enter into a written agreement between themselves providing for Part II of the IAA and the Model Law to apply.7 The criteria for determining whether an arbitration is international in nature is set out at Section 5(2) IAA (read with Section 5(3) IAA). Under Section 5(2) IAA, an arbitration is international if at least one of the parties to the arbitration agreement, at the time of the conclusion of the agreement, has its place of business in any state other than Singapore or if the place of arbitration or any place where a substantial part of the obligations of the commercial relationship is to be performed is outside Singapore.

The IAA adopts the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on international commercial arbitration (Model Law), with certain amendments. Section 3(1) of the IAA provides for the Model Law (except for Chapter VIII thereof) to have the force of law in Singapore. Any departures from the Model Law are listed in Part II of the IAA. However, Section 15(1) IAA provides parties an option to opt out of the Model Law and for the AA to apply to their arbitration. In addition, given that Singapore is a signatory to the New York Convention, this Convention is given the force of law by way of Schedule 2 of the IAA.

The AA seeks to align the domestic arbitral regime with the Model Law as well and applies to arbitration proceedings commenced on or after 1 March 2002. The corollary of this is that where there are similar provisions in the AA and the IAA, 'the court is entitled and indeed even required to have regard to the scheme of the [IAA or the Model Law] for guidance in the interpretation of the [AA]'.8 This is consonant with the legislative intent to align the domestic regime under the AA with the Model Law.

The fundamental difference between domestic and international arbitrations is the degree of curial intervention in respect of these two types of arbitrations. In particular, while the Singapore courts adopt the policy of minimal curial intervention, the AA permits additional remedies against an award such as an appeal on a question of law,9 whereas the only recourse against an award under the IAA is a challenge to the award on certain limited grounds including those set out in the Model Law. This policy of minimal curial intervention and respect for the tribunal's rulings on the facts and the law, in international arbitrations has been reaffirmed by the Singapore courts time and time again, as we shall see in the following paragraphs, and is a testament to the deep faith and respect the legal community of Singapore has in the principles, process and function of international arbitration; while seeking to fulfil its proper role in facilitating the process, only intervening when absolutely necessary.

ii Arbitral institutions in Singapore

The SIAC is a well-established institution both globally and in Asia.10 In 2020, a record 1,080 new case filings were lodged with the SIAC, the first time it has crossed the symbolic 1,000-case threshold.11 The record, which stands as the highest since it commenced operations in 1991, marks a 125 per cent increase from 2019 and a 169 per cent increase from 2018, with the total sum in dispute for 2020 amounting to US$8.49 billion (SG$11.25 billion), a 4.9 per cent increment from 2019.12 2020 also saw the SIAC administer 1,063 of the 1,080 new cases, or 98 per cent of all new filings, which also sets a new record for the institution; while the remaining 17 cases (2 per cent) were ad hoc appointments.13 Additionally, 94 per cent of cases (1,018) that were filed with the SIAC in 2020 were international in nature,14 with parties from India, China and the US maintaining their positions as its top foreign users, while parties from a diverse spectrum of common and civil law jurisdictions including Switzerland, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong SAR, Vietnam, Japan and the Cayman Islands were also notable foreign users in 2020.15 An increase of 545 cases coming from US parties is particularly significant, representing a jump of 738 per cent from 65 cases in 2019, which experts attribute in part to Singapore's reputation of neutrality.16 This leap rather fortuitously coincides with the opening of SIAC's New York office on 12 December 2020, which aims to serve as a springboard to foster deeper ties with the institution's US users.17 The new procedures introduced by SIAC in recent years have continued to gain traction; in 2020, which marks the tenth anniversary of the introduction of these measures in 2010, the SIAC received 88 requests for the expedited procedure to be utilised, of which 37 were accepted,18 and 20 applications for the appointment of emergency arbitrators, all of which were accepted.19

The Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration (SCMA) was originally established in November 2004 as a carve-out of SIAC.20 In May 2009, because of industry feedback, it was reconstituted and started functioning independently. The aim and focus of the SCMA is to provide a framework for maritime arbitration that is responsive to the needs of the maritime community. SCMA received a total of 43 reported case references in 2020.21 A SCMA Public Consultation was launched to gather further feedback and comments on possible amendments preceding the planned launch of the fourth edition of the SCMA Arbitration Rules in 2021.22 On 1 June 2020, the SCMA launched the Local Users Council, comprising leading ship owners, charterers, ship brokers, offshore companies, underwriters, protection and indemnity clubs, and other key players in the maritime industry, to serve as a forum for discussion and industry feedback.23

The Singapore Institute of Arbitrators (SIArb) is an independent professional body that was established in 1981 and focuses on the training of arbitration practitioners and arbitrators and the promotion of arbitration in Singapore.24 Of significance is the release in 2018 of guidelines formulated by SIArb for party representative ethics (an amalgam of overarching principles common to jurisdictions) to aid in the creation of a consistent standard governing the conduct of counsel and representatives in international arbitration, which has become ever more important with the growing complexity and volume of international arbitration proceedings conducted worldwide.25

The ICC Singapore Arbitration Group26 was established in June 2019, reinforcing Singapore's reputation as the gateway city for international trade and one of the most preferred seats of arbitration worldwide. The Group consists of locally based Singaporean and foreign arbitration practitioners, Singaporean arbitration practitioners based overseas, academics and corporate counsel. The Group also comprises a selection committee of arbitrators that will be responsible for nominating arbitrators for ICC arbitration cases referred to ICC Singapore. This comes amid figures released that the ICC Case Management Office, which was opened in Singapore in April 2018, has already administered its first 100 cases.27

Maxwell Chambers Suites (inaugurated in August 2019) is the world's first integrated alternative dispute resolution complex, and has become a favourite among parties, counsels, arbitrators and mediators as a preferred hearing centre. In keeping with the needs of current times, Maxwell Chambers now has in place virtual and hybrid hearing (combination of virtual and in person) platforms to provide seamless hearing services to parties across the globe.28

The year in review

i Arbitration in Singapore and the covid-19 pandemic

While describing the devastating effects the covid-19 pandemic has had on global business may be trite and a tad clichéd, it is no understatement to say that its impact on international arbitration both in and out of Singapore has been transformational on a hitherto unprecedented scale and pace. While the initial effect of border closures, lockdown measures and social distancing measures simply delayed or put a halt to the arbitral process, when it became clear that the pandemic was here to stay, rapid adaptations and shifts in logistical and technological processes were adopted by arbitration institutions the world over to find a workable solution to facilitating dispute resolution in a covid-19 world. This in turn has accelerated many changes that were already in the pipeline, forcing the hand of those who may have been resistant to change, to adapt quickly; not least of these measures was the swift shift to the virtual and online conducting of arbitrations. Similarly, hybrid hearings with some virtual components have also become the norm.

The major arbitral institutions across the world issued a joint statement in April of 2020 outlining their shared commitment to collaborate and utilise digital technologies to facilitate arbitral processes and deliver a degree of normalcy in volatile times.29 Calling for solidarity and fostering open and constructive discussions and suggestions, the institutions aimed to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, committing to using the full extent of their respective institutional rules and any case management techniques feasible that would aid parties and arbitrators to carry on without undue delay or impediments.30

In Singapore, the SIAC was quick to react to the needs of its users, publishing a series of notices in line with the latest rules and regulations, remaining compliant with social distancing rules with guidelines for using a dedicated case management email for e-filing and e-payment purposes.31 Rule 19.1 of the 2016 SIAC Rules provides that 'The Tribunal shall conduct the arbitration in such a manner as it considers appropriate, after consulting with the parties, to ensure the fair, expeditious, economical and final resolution of the dispute'. While there are no specific rules concerning the use of video conferencing technology in the conduct of hearings, the application of this rule was the basis on which the SIAC developed its guidelines for its use.32 The SIAC provided extensive guidance and recommendations on the use of virtual and hybrid hearings, and provided detailed guidelines from the presentation of evidence, to the technical preparations, to the considerations relevant to choosing the right platform for the case in question.33 Maxwell Chambers took the leading role globally by investing early and extensively, just after the onset of the epidemic, in equipment and virtual hearing technology necessary for the facilitation and aiding of hybrid and virtual hearings.34 The state-of-the-art videoconferencing capabilities, remote transcription, interpretation and digital hearing solutions offered by Maxwell Chambers is coupled with dedicated moderators and staff to aid in the smooth and seamless running of hybrid and virtual hearings.35 It had selected and tested out its full technical solution within two weeks in March 2020, which has become so routine and effortless that experts and users predict that this 'new normal' might well remain popular in a post covid-19 world.36

Additionally, and to further boost its adoption, Maxwell Chambers entered into an International Arbitration Centre Alliance (Iaca) with the International Dispute Resolution Centre of London and Arbitration Place of Toronto and Ottawa as founding members, in May 2020. The alliance allows the member institutions to pool resources and offers global hybrid hearing services to any of its users, who may attend an Iaca facility closest to them, or remotely via a secure virtual platform.37 These technological and logistical innovations, coupled with the positive and proactive response of its tenant institutions in adapting to the covid-19 pandemic, have seen the arbitration caseload continue to experience strong growth amid the pandemic, not just for the SIAC but also for the ICC, which despite a brief slowdown at the start of the pandemic, with the uptake of virtual hearings and pandemic friendly technologies, continued to see growth in arbitration activities in all areas including Asia where Singapore continues to be the top place of ICC arbitration.38 The SCMA, another tenant institution of Maxwell Chambers, describes the investment in technology and the shift to virtual hearings as allowing arbitration during the pandemic to continue as business 'as usual', noting as well that while there are shortcomings to virtual hearings, for instance not being able to cross-examine witnesses face to face, the lessons and innovations borne out of this time are likely to be here for the long run even when we go back to the status quo.39

ii Developments affecting international arbitration

In June 2019, the Ministry of Law issued a public consultation paper on proposed amendments to the IAA.40 On 1 December 2020, the International Arbitration (Amendment) Act 2020 (IAA 2020) came into force, which introduced two of the proposed amendments that the public had been consulted on in 2019, while the remaining amendments to the Singapore International Arbitration Act (SIAA) remain under review.41 The new provisions are expected to enhance Singapore's international arbitration regime and appeal as an arbitration seat. The first amendment, in Section 9B of the SIAA, provides a default procedure for the appointment of arbitrators in multi-party arbitrations. In short, in multi-party arbitrations with a three-member tribunal, the claimants jointly appoint an arbitrator, the respondents jointly appoint an arbitrator, and the two jointly appoint the presiding third. Where there is disagreement or failure to appoint an arbitrator within the given time frame, the President of the Court of Arbitration of the SIAC, as the appointing authority, will appoint the relevant arbitrators. Secondly, the new Section 12(1)(j) of the SIAA expressly recognises the right of a tribunal and of the Singapore High Courts to exercise their power in the enforcement of confidentiality obligations. This strengthens the parties to arbitration rights to enforce obligations of confidentiality in arbitration.42

In December 2018, the United Nations General Assembly adopted, by consensus, the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation, also known as the Singapore Convention on Mediation (Singapore Convention). On 7 August 2019, the signing ceremony for the Convention was held in Singapore. The Singapore Convention will facilitate international trade and commerce by enabling disputing parties to consider alternate dispute resolution, such as mediation, and easily enforce and invoke settlement agreements arising from such mediation, across borders.43 This will also serve as an additional dispute resolution option for businesses to consider in addition to litigation and arbitration in settling cross-border disputes. Fifty-three countries, including heavyweights China, India and the US, have signed the Convention thus far, including six of whom have ratified the treaty. On 12 September 2020, the Singapore Convention came into force heralding a dawn of a new age for mediation, and marking a significant development in international commercial alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.44 Much like the New York Convention has been seen as the bedrock of the success of international commercial arbitration, it is hoped that the Singapore Convention will go a long way to promoting the use of mediation for cross-border disputes. While some may perceive the Singapore Convention as a threat to international arbitration, it can also be seen to enhance the international dispute resolution scene with arbitration and mediation being used in tandem (with the possibility of med-arb or arb-med-arb multi-tiered dispute resolution clauses) in the dispute resolution process. The convention, which focuses on the provision of an efficient and harmonised framework for cross-border enforcement of settlement agreements resulting from mediation,45 is particularly timely in a covid-19 world, as mediation may be seen to be an efficient, quick and inexpensive route to dispute resolution in a pandemic-stricken world, and with the help of the Singapore Convention, can still produce a legally enforceable outcome. The Singapore International Mediation Centre launched its SIMC Covid-19 Protocol, with this function and objective in mind, in its introduction of expedited mediation procedures.46

On 7 July 2020, the SIAC announced the commencement of revisions for the SIAC arbitration rules, to take into account recent developments in international arbitration practice and procedure. The SIAC plans to release the new rules in the third quarter of 2021.47

iii Arbitration developments in local courts

In this section, we deal with some recent Singapore case law on issues in international arbitration.

Singapore Court of Appeal upholds setting-aside order in witness-gating case

In CBS v. CBP,48 the Court of Appeal (SGCA) had to consider whether or not the grounds for breach of natural justice that the Singapore High Court (SGHC) had relied on for setting aside the arbitral award in the 'witness-gating' case of CBP v. CBS49 were sufficient to warrant such a judgment. The breach in question was the arbitrator's failure to permit an oral hearing of the Respondent Buyer's witnesses in relation to an oral agreement that was a key tenet of the Buyer's defence. While the judgment is anonymised, the parties have been identified by the press as Singapore's DBS Bank and the Indian steel manufacturer Vandana.50 The Court of Appeal, Singapore's apex court, also clarified that the jurisdiction to deal with remission back to the arbitrator under Article 34(4) of the Model Law lies solely with the High Court, as the SGCA lacks the jurisdiction to consider an ab initio appeal to remit under the article.

The Appellant, DBS Bank argued that the SGHC had been mistaken in ruling that the decision of the arbitrator was outside the 'range or what a reasonable and fair-minded tribunal in those circumstances might have done' and that the arbitrator's actions were not taken, as the High Court suggests, 'irrationally or capriciously' and that no breach of natural justice had occurred as the arbitration was a 'documents-only' arbitration, which was allowed under the SCMA rules. The Respondent conversely contended that there was an egregious breach of natural justice, on the basis of the arbitrator's witness-gating, in addition to the ultra vires request for the witness statements before deciding whether the proceedings should be documents-only, which was made in contravention of rule 28.1 of the SCMA Rules.

The SGCA supported the holistic interpretation of rule 28.1 of the SCMA Rules adopted by the SGHC and concurred with it that the case management powers of the tribunal were not arbitrary unfettered powers that could be used to override the rules of natural justice as was the case in its exercise of its powers under rule 25 of the SCMA Rules. The arbitrator's decision to direct that the Buyer's witness's oral evidence was to be excluded in its entirety in this case was deemed to be a material and factual breach of the rules of natural justice pertaining to the right to a fair hearing. The witness-gating of the Buyer's seven witnesses resulted in prejudice to the Buyer and dealt a blow to a key pillar of its defence, and consequently resulted in its being found liable for the entire sum claimed by DBS, which was a breach of natural justice that directly affected the final award. The SGCA was therefore satisfied that all requirements for setting aside the award had been met.

Additionally, the SGCA rejected the bank's request to only partially set aside the award on the grounds that the Buyer's defence was only a partial one, observing that the bank had not requested this in the SGHC at first instance, and that the SGHC's decision to set aside the entirety of the award was 'realistic and wholly defensible'.

Crucially, the SGCA, in relation to the bank's further request that the case be remitted back to the tribunal for re-evaluation, ruled that it did not have the jurisdiction to deal with such an ab initio request as DBS had failed to request the remedy in front of the SGHC, who had the jurisdiction to do so. These important points of clarification of Article 34(4) of the Model Law have been warmly welcomed by the arbitral community, and the judgment shows the robust approach of the Singaporean courts which, while deeply respectful of the arbitral process and the doctrine of minimal curial intervention, will not hesitate to set aside an arbitration award under the appropriate circumstances.

Breach of foreign law would not in itself suffice for a breach of public policy claim

In Gokul Patnaik v. Nine Rivers Capital51 the SICC dismissed an application to introduce new evidence on foreign law and to set aside an arbitration award on the grounds of it being contrary to the rules of natural justice and the public policy of Singapore.

The Applicant was held by the tribunal to be liable having failed to purchase certain securities in accordance with an agreement between the parties, which the respondent held by way of a share subscription and shareholders agreement (SSSA) in an Indian company GAPL. In its proceedings under the IAA before the SICC to set aside the award, the applicant attempted to file evidence on Indian law by way of an affidavit from Justice Patnaik, which the respondents sought to strike out on the grounds that the affidavit was not brought up during the arbitration and amounted to fresh evidence on an issue of law that had already been decided by the tribunal in the arbitration. The SICC concurred with this reasoning and struck out the affidavit.

In relation to the argument brought by the applicant that the arbitrator's rejection of his application to amend his Statement of Defence deprived him of a right to a fair hearing and was therefore a breach of natural justice, the SICC also ruled that as it was a case management decision and within the arbitrator's discretion, also noting that the applicant's failure to plead the relevant issues at the correct time and its decision to have the issues 'raised late and slipped into opening submissions for the hearing', meant it could not be challenged, nor did it meet the high bar required for breaches of natural justice.

The applicant also submitted that it would be a breach of international comity and in contravention to Singapore public policy to enforce an award arising out of contracts the applicant claimed breached Indian law and Indian public policy. The SICC recognised the rule in AJU v. AJT52 that a decision of a tribunal to enforce an illegal contract that was governed under Singapore law, erroneously deciding that it was not against Singaporean public policy, would be liable to be set aside. However, in this case, as the arbitrator found that the agreements in question were not illegal under Indian law, on the facts no issue of Singapore public policy would be engaged. Additionally, even if the courts could consider the legality under Indian law afresh, it noted that the policy of sustaining international awards outweighed that of discouraging transactions which breached a country's foreign exchange regulations, which the tribunal found had not happened. While the courts affirmed that the Singapore courts will not enforce a contract whose real object and intention of the parties is to perform an illegal act in a foreign and friendly country; this does not extend to every minute breach and would still need to fulfil the requirement of being sufficiently egregious so as to shock the conscience or violate the most basic notions of morality and justice for it to amount to a breach of Singapore public policy. The SICC dismissed the application, reaffirming the strong pro-arbitration stance taken by the Singapore courts.

Strict limitation applicable to setting-aside applications

In BRS v. BRQ53 the SGCA reviewed the appeal of both parties to set aside portions of the award of the tribunal which the SGHC had dismissed in the first instance. The tribunal issued an award that was by and large in BRQ's (Buyer) favour, however the liability of BRS (Seller) was limited with respect to certain time-dependent components to the stipulated cut-off-date, as opposed to the completion date, as the tribunal determined that the construction of the project could have been achieved by the cut-off date had BRQ acted in a more prudent and cost-effective way.

The parties received the award of the tribunal on 31 January 2018 and filed their respective partial setting-aside applications thereafter. The Buyer took the position that the Seller, who had filed its setting-aside application on 22 June 2018, had done so after the three-month limit had passed. The Seller contended that it had filed a correction request to the tribunal on 1 March 2018 and argued that the three-month time limit would only run from 23 March 2018, which is when the tribunal dismissed the correction request. The Buyer took the position that it was not an actual request for correction under Article 33 of the Model Law in substance that would have triggered the extension of the time limit. The Seller argued that the form of the request and not its substance is what counted to trigger the time limit.

The SGCA rejected the Seller's appeal on the basis that the Seller's setting-aside application was not filed in time, pointing out that the substance of Article 33 of the Model Law must be fulfilled to trigger an extension of time in accordance with the 'slip rule' and Article 34 of the Model Law, which was not met in this instance. Additionally, having received the tribunal's dismissal of the correction request in March, the Sellers could have still made the 31 April 2018 deadline to avoid any argument that their application was filed out of time. Regardless of the academic validity of the application, it was duly dismissed.

The Seller contended that the Buyer could not challenge the award because it had commenced enforcement proceedings for part of the Award. The SGCA disagreed, ruling that there was no inconsistency in enforcing the benefit of the Award, while appealing to expand the scope of said benefit. In this case, the SGCA found that the tribunal in failing to consider a key factor that could have affected the cut-off date chosen, constituted a breach of natural justice, and in turn allowed the Buyer's appeal and remitted the award to the tribunal for reconsideration on this one factor and its relationship with the cut-off date chosen.

High bar to set aside on grounds of breach of natural justice or public policy

In CEB and CEC v. CED and CEE54 the plaintiffs commenced two arbitrations against two different parties that were heard together by the same sole arbitrator. In both awards, the same issues arose and the reasoning and the conclusions arrived at by the arbitrator were to the same effect in both cases. The plaintiff commenced two setting-aside applications, with identical arguments. The crux of the issue was that the respondents had failed to make payment for goods supplied to an initial number of contracts, which resulted in the unilateral cancellation by the plaintiffs of numerous subsequent contracts. The arbitrator ruled that these contracts were separate and distinct and that the plaintiffs, having been in breach for cancelling the contracts, would have its damages owed for its breach set off against monies owed for the failure to make payment under the original contracts with the respective respondents. The plaintiffs accordingly pursued its setting-aside applications on the grounds that the arbitrator had breached natural justice, and public policy, in accordance with Section 24(b) of the IAA55 and Article 34(2)(b)(ii) of the Model Law.

The first issue at hand was proving the high bar of a breach of natural justice, as set forth in the four criteria in Soh Beng Tee & Co Pte Ltd v. Fairmount Development Pte Ltd56 requiring: (1) the rule of natural justice breached; (2) how it was breached; (3) the connection to the making of the award; and (4) how the breach prejudiced the rights of a party. However, even in finding that all four criteria are met, there remained the question of whether the court should exercise its discretion not to set aside the awards. However, the court, in finding that the arbitrator had interpreted the arbitration agreement by applying the Indian Arbitration Act of 1996, pointed out that there was scope under s33(4) of the said act, for the plaintiffs to apply for an additional arbitral award within 30 days of receiving the arbitral award for claims otherwise omitted in the award. As the plaintiffs had not invoked it, nor had they provided due explanation as to why it was not invoked, the courts concluded that the balance fell heavily on the side of the principle of minimal curial intervention. The judge opined that if a party was not penalised for relying on Article 34 without first invoking Article 33(3), this could render the latter toothless or be an abuse of the former. Additionally, as the claim was a tiny fraction of the overall award, 0.6 per cent, they ruled that it would be wholly disproportionate to remit the matter to the arbitrator.

Secondly, with regard to the application to set aside on the ground that it is in conflict with the public policy of Singapore, the courts reiterated the very high bar used by the Singapore courts, in balancing the policy of enforcing arbitral awards and the judicial policy of minimal curial intervention with whatever public policy is said to be breached; that said breach would have to 'shock the conscience' of the court insofar as it is 'wholly offensive to the ordinary reasonable and fully informed member of the public' or 'wholly offensive to the most basic notion of morality and justice'. The courts did not find their conscience sufficiently shocked, nor their basic notions of morality attacked, and so both applications to set aside were dismissed.

The courts had also discussed, obiter dicta, the effect of the phrasing of the arbitration agreement which stated that the arbitration shall be conducted in accordance with the Indian Arbitration Act, but stipulating the seat to be Singapore. Referring to previous cases, the court opined that one reading would have the law of the seat apply as both lex arbitri and procedural law, with the Indian Arbitration Act reference applying by contractual incorporation to govern the internal conduct of the arbitration rather than supervision. The court also explored an alternative, more complicated interpretation which goes to party autonomy, with the parties choosing not merely to have the arbitration conducted in accordance with the procedure of a different legal system from the arbitration law of the seat but also that the arbitration should be decided in accordance with the laws of that system, in other words, choosing a foreign procedural law to be governed by the supervising seat, a process which the court quotes Gary Born as noting is 'extremely unusual' and that 'introduces serious complexity, uncertainty and risks into the arbitral proceeding'.57 The court noted, however, that either of these readings would not affect the outcome in this case.

Outlook and conclusions

The Singapore courts continue to take a balanced approach between the regulation of the arbitral process and giving effect to party autonomy. It has shown that while it maintains a pro-arbitration approach and one of minimal curial intervention and respect for the arbitral process, it is also willing to step in and perform its functions accordingly, setting aside or remitting awards to tribunals where the circumstances are appropriate and the high bars to do so have been met. Additionally, the learned opinion of the judges of the Singapore courts have, and continue to, add to the wider body of arbitration jurisprudence, clarifying important points of law for the wider global community. This bodes well for Singapore's reputation as a fair, neutral and respected legal forum; and for its desire to build on its successes to become a one-stop-shop for international dispute resolution needs.

Singapore is expected to maintain its position as a key dispute resolution hub, particularly with the Singapore Convention having come into force, and to further solidify its position as an important and well-used arbitral seat, with the SIAC continuing to grow from strength to strength, other institutions such as the SCMA and SIArb continuing to grow and flourish, and the growing prominence of Singapore as a seat in ICC arbitrations.


1 Margaret Joan Ling and Vivekananda Neelakantan are partners at Allen & Gledhill (Singapore). The authors wish to thank Bryan Wong, at the firm, for his considerable assistance in the preparation of this chapter.

2 Report of 2018 Queen Mary University of London and White & Case International Arbitration Survey, p. 9.

3 Report of 2019 Queen Mary University of London and Pinsent Masons International Arbitration Survey: International Construction Disputes, p. 12.

4 Cap 10 (2002 Rev Ed).

5 Cap 143A (2002 Rev Ed).

6 Section 3, AA.

7 Section 5(1), IAA.

8 LW Infrastructure Pte Ltd v. Lim Chin San Contractors Pte Ltd [2013] 1 SLR 125 (CA) at [33]–[34].

9 Section 49, AA.

10 Refer to footnote 3.

11 SIAC, 'SIAC Sets a New Record in 2020', 31 March 2021:

13 ibid.

14 id., p. 17.

15 SIAC, 'SIAC Sets a New Record in 2020', 31 March 2021:

16 Financial Times, 'Singapore reports record number of arbitration cases', 2 April 2021:

17 The Straits Times, 'Singapore arbitration centre opens office in NY', 12 December 2020:

19 id., p. 21.

22 id., pp. 12–15.

23 id., p. 12.

24 SIArb – About Us:

25 SIArb – Party Representative Ethics:

26 The authors are members of this group.

27 Singapore Business Federation, 'ICC Singapore Arbitration Group to raise Singapore's profile in international arbitration and dispute resolution', 26 June 2019:

28 The Straits Times, 'Maxwell Chambers turns to virtual hearings amid Covid-19', 19 October 2020:

30 ibid.

31 SIAC, 'Enhanced COVID-19 Measures at SIAC' & 'COVID-19 Case Management Update', 6 April 2020:

32 ibid.

34 Maxwell Chambers, 'Hybrid and Virtual Hearings', 24 June 2020: 2020/06/24/hybrid-and-virtual-hearings/.

35 ibid.

36 The Straits Times, 'Maxwell Chambers turns to virtual hearings amid Covid-19', 19 October 2020:

37 ibid.

38 The Straits Times, 'Arbitration cases continue to grow amid pandemic', 19 October 2020:

39 Seatrade Maritime News, 'Virtual hearings and a blended future for maritime arbitration', 21 May 2020: arbitration-scma.

40 Ministry of Law, 'Public Consultation on Proposed Amendments to the International Arbitration Act', 26 June 2019: the-international-arbitration-act.

41 International Arbitration (Amendment) Act 2020 (No. 32 of 2020).

42 International Arbitration (Amendment) Act 2020 (No. 32 of 2020).

46 Singapore International Mediation Centre, its SIMC COVID-19 Protocol:

47 SIAC, 'SIAC Announces Commencement of Revision for SIAC Arbitration', 7 July 2020:[Announcement]%20SIAC%20Announces%20Commencement%20of%20Revisions%20for%20SIAC%20Arbitration%20Rules.pdf.

48 CBS v. CBP [2021] SGCA 4.

49 CBP v. CBS [2020] SGHC 23.

51 Gokul Patnaik v. Nine Rivers Capital [2020] SGHC(I) 23.

52 AJU v. AJT [2011] 4 SLR 739.

53 BRS v. BRQ and ANO'R [2020] SGCA 108.

54 CEB and CEC v. CED and CEE [2020] SGHC(I) 11.

55 Section 24(b), IAA.

56 Soh Beng Tee & Co Pte Ltd v. Fairmount Development Pte Ltd [2007] 3 SLR(R) 86.

57 Gary B Born, International Commercial Arbitration, Kluwer Law International, 2nd edn, 2014, at p. 1618.

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