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Singapore to launch its own Asia-centric international commercial court

SINGAPORE--Singapore on Tuesday said it plans to launch an international commercial court that will aid in settling an increasing number of cross-border disputes as Asia's economies boom.

The Ministry of Law said in a statement the proposed Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) will leverage on robust cross-border investment and trade in Asia, where gross domestic product is expected to triple over the current decade to US$34.9 trillion in 2020.

“Against this backdrop, the number and complexity of cross-border disputes is expected to increase, enabling the legal services sector in the Asia Pacific to grow significantly,” the ministry said.

It said the SICC will build on Singapore's reputation as a leading destination for international arbitration, which allows for disputes to be resolved by third-party arbitrators outside of court.

The Singapore International Arbitration Centre, set up in 1991, last year handled 235 disputes worth SG$3.61 billion (US$2.87 billion).

It is considered the fourth most preferred arbitration institution in the world, after similar bodies headquartered in Paris, London and New York, according to a survey by international law firm White & Case.

“Building on the success of the arbitration sector in Singapore, the proposed international commercial court will make Singapore an even more attractive venue for dispute resolution in Asia and beyond,” the ministry said.

With similar commercial courts in London and Dubai handling a growing number of global cases, “a window of opportunity currently exists for an Asian dispute resolution hub catering to international disputes with an Asian connection,” said a report of an international committee that looked into the feasibility of setting up the court.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters that Singapore is the “obvious choice” for investors looking to have disputes resolved in a transparent and efficient manner.

He said the court, which will be set up after public consultation and law changes in parliament, will have top commercial lawyers from around the world acting as judges, along with Singaporean High Court justices.

“The benefits for the litigants is that they get to know that their cases will be dealt with in a court of the highest quality with a specialist panel of commercial lawyers and completely independent,” Shanmugam said.

The SICC will function as a division of Singapore's High Court, and its rulings can be upheld outside Singapore through reciprocal enforcement provisions between countries and the city-state.

The proposed court will handle cases between parties that consent to using it after a dispute arises, or when there is a contractual clause giving the court jurisdiction over disputes.

Singapore's Chief Justice can also transfer cases from commercial courts to be heard in the SICC.

The decisions of the SICC will be appealable to a Court of Appeal that includes international jurists and top Singaporean judges.

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