The Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) Hearing Room and the SIAC Domestic Arbitration Rules will be officially launched by the Honourable the Chief Justice of Singapore, Mr Yong Pung How, in a simple ceremony at the City Hall at 5 p.m. on Friday 4 May 2001.
Since it started operations in 1991 as a non-profit publicly-supported organisation, SIAC’s main focus has been on the promotion of international arbitration in Singapore. SIAC provides the international business community a forum for the resolution of their disputes which is more conveniently located than the traditional arbitration centres in Europe and America. It also enables disputes to be resolved at much less cost. Most of the cases handled by the Centre are international cases.
Recent years, however, have seen a marked, if not phenomenal, growth in domestic arbitration, that is, arbitration involving only Singapore parties, or non-Singaporean parties who carry on business in Singapore. Mr Ang Yong Tong, the executive director of SIAC, says that domestic cases administered by the SIAC now account for more than a third of the caseload of the Centre.
The volume of domestic cases outside the purview of the Centre has also grown exponentially. But almost all these cases are so-called "ad hoc" arbitrations, meaning that they are managed entirely by the parties themselves and their arbitrator, without any institutional involvement. The parties agree on whom to appoint as their arbitrator.
On being appointed, the arbitrator and the parties work out a set of procedures and timetable for the further progress of the arbitration. In such a party-managed arbitration, until the arbitrator is appointed, the case cannot go on, as there are no procedural rules for the parties to follow. A delay in the appointment of the arbitrator, or a delay in the arbitrator giving procedural directions, or a delay in taking other steps, particularly where there is a reluctant party, can cause significant delay to the case as a whole.
"There is a need," says a senior lawyer, "for a degree of institutionalisation of arbitration in Singapore. People want to know in advance that their disputes will be settled efficiently according to a known set of rules. They look to SIAC to provide the lead and the support."
"I was thinking about this problem of delays," says Mr Warren Khoo, who took over as Chairman of the Centre on his retirement from the High Court not long ago. "It struck me that the reason why nothing could be done in a party-managed arbitration until the arbitrator was appointed was the lack of a mechanism to enable things to move forward before the arbitrator was appointed. It struck me that if court proceedings, even up to trial, could go on without a judge having been assigned to the case, there was no reason why arbitration could not proceed automatically before the arbitrator was appointed. SIAC could provide the missing mechanism. "
The new Domestic Rules of the SIAC will make it possible for the parties themselves, with the support of the SIAC, to make significant progress in their arbitration even before the arbitrator is appointed. They can start an arbitration by simply filing a notice with the Centre. After that, the rules require them to file their case statements automatically within clearly defined time limits. When the arbitrator is appointed, he promptly gives procedural directions to take the arbitration to hearing and conclusion.
The rules thus provide clear guide-posts for all the steps that have to be taken. In this and other ways, they enable an arbitration to proceed to conclusion in an orderly, expeditious and cost-effective way. If a claim is clear-cut, there is a summary procedure for an award to be obtained quickly, in the same way as a summary judgment is available in the courts.
Mr Ang says that the rules are designed to be user-friendly. Parties do not need to have any elaborately drafted clauses in their contracts. If both parties agree to refer the dispute to arbitration at the SIAC and their case is a domestic case, the new rules will automatically apply to their arbitration. Even if they have already started a court case, they can also agree to stop the court case and go to the SIAC for arbitration, using the documents they have filed in court in the arbitration. Of practical importance, he also points out that the fees charged by the Centre for administering cases are set at a very moderate level, compared to those charged for international cases and those charged by other arbitration institutions.
"With all that they have to offer, it seems to me that arbitration at the SIAC under these rules has every reason to be considered as a preferred alternative to ad hoc arbitration, and to litigation," said the Chief Justice at the launch.
Mr Khoo says "These rules will enable SIAC to play a bigger and more significant role on the domestic arbitration front. With more cases coming to the Centre, we can appoint more and more of our talented people to act as arbitrators. The rules will help us monitor performance and set standards. They will help us to develop a strong local expertise and help our arbitrators to move on to play a more active role on the international level."
Mr Khoo adds, however, that the enhanced role of the SIAC in domestic arbitration does not diminish in any way its interest in international arbitration. He says that there is no shift in emphasis, only an extension of interest and activity.
In keeping with its role of providing support to arbitral proceedings, SIAC has put in place a new enlarged Hearing Room on the third level of the City Hall Building, to accommodate the increasing number of large arbitration cases which come to the Centre for resolution. SIAC also provides other support facilities, including audio and video recording facilities, parties’ meeting rooms, a witnesses’ lounge, secretarial, transcription and interpretation services. The Hearing Room, with these associated facilities, has already enjoyed unqualified praise from its users and visitors. Its official opening marks a step forward in the development of SIAC’s capabilities in serving its users