A record number of Singaporean litigants appeared in the London Commercial Courts in the past year, as recently highlighted by Portland’s Commercial Courts Report 2020. This rise was driven by a 600 per cent surge in shipping litigants.
This is perhaps unsurprising, given London’s legacy position as the prime destination globally to resolve maritime disputes – with Singapore and Hong Kong its strongest competitors.
Nonetheless, the rise in Singaporean litigants in the UK Courts has not impacted the growing popularity of the city-state as a global dispute resolution hub.
In 2019, Singapore’s international arbitration centre saw a record 479 cases, of which 87 per cent were global in nature.
International law firms are also setting their sights on Singapore. In the last twelve months, City firms establishing or expanding offices in Singapore include Mishcon de Reya, Cooley and Pinsent Masons.
Commenting on their expansion, Mishcon’s Tahirah Ara, Singapore Managing Partner and Head of Asia, said, “The choice of Singapore as the location of our first office in the region reflects its position as the gateway to Asia, and more specifically ASEAN, as well as its strength as a hub for international commercial arbitration and wealth management.”
Singapore’s reputation is bolstered by its robust central governance, and the continued efforts of local policymakers to propel the city-state into a world-class dispute resolution hub.
Writing for Portland’s Commercial Courts Report, Darius Chan, Associate Professor of Law at the Singapore Management University, explained, “Singapore did not become an international dispute resolution hub by accident. It is a product of careful central design and active management.”
“Disputing parties in Singapore have free access to their pick of counsel, arbitrators and mediators. These representatives are unhampered by immigration, tax, or other bureaucratic barriers to entry that are typically found in other jurisdictions where multiple interest groups jostle,” Chan added.
The impact of uncertainty: Hong Kong’s political unrest and COVID-19
Against this backdrop, the ongoing political unrest in Hong Kong is expected to drive even more businesses to look to Singapore as the region’s destination of choice for commercial disputes.
Singapore’s comparable proximity to commercial operations and supply chains in Asia, coupled with its strong rule of law, makes it well-placed to serve as a natural alternative.
At a broader level, with Asian economies projected to recover more swiftly than its Western counterparts amid the coronavirus fallout, more businesses will no doubt look to the region as a pillar of commercial stability in the recovery stages.
According to Kimarie Cheang, Director at Incisive Law, “The agile manner by which the authorities and institutions have adapted to the COVID-19 crisis illustrates why Singapore, as a forum, will continue to draw and gain the confidence of litigants.”
Looking to the future, Cheang added, “For Singapore to maintain its competitive advantage, it needs to continue to innovate to ensure that its laws are consistent and relevant to the fast-moving developments in international trade and commerce.”
While the London courts attracted a record number of Singaporean litigants this year, the city-state is committed to its expansion. As the international commercial courts marketplace continues to grow, Singapore undoubtedly poses a serious challenge to London’s preeminent status.