Singapore as a commercial court hub

The judicial and legal community would be buoyed by the progress of the planned Singapore International Commercial Court, as legislative steps are taken to make SICC a division of the High Court. Infrastructure matters but also essential is the trust the court wins, given the pre-eminence of London's commercial courts. As in education or medical care, gaining hub status depends not only on the services in which a country decides to specialise but also, more importantly, on how others perceive the quality and sustainability of those services.

The Republic has much in its favour having worked over the past decade in the arbitration of disputes between parties from different jurisdictions. Further, the integrity of judges epitomises the habitual and tested practice of the rule of law here; and the legal system is not only well-developed but it also has experience in dealing with complex commercial disputes.

To build on this reputation, the country will have to be open to eminent international jurists serving on the panel of judges, as well as foreign lawyers with expertise in cross-border dispute resolution. Court-to-court arrangements will also be necessary to develop the internationality of SICC judgments - in the form of tie-ups with foreign international courts to refer appropriate proceedings to each other's jurisdiction so a question of foreign law, for example, can be determined.

Setting the stage for success as a hub goes beyond professionals in a particular field. For example, facility with English, both as the language of the law and the lingua franca of society, is not a minor advantage. In addition, the institutional infrastructure of a nation must function within an intensely international outlook. In Singapore's case, its geographical position and advantages of good connectivity could serve it well in attracting international litigants.

Global trade has grown at about 5.4 per cent a year on average over the last two decades and the Asia-Pacific has taken centre stage in the world economy. This trend is accenting the need for reliable legal hubs to cater to complicated disputes that span jurisdictions. Singapore can play a leading role here along with the best of them. To do this, it should never underestimate the competition from other major players like Geneva, Tokyo and Paris. Indeed, the success of the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts shows that even relative newcomers are trying hard to be the venue of choice for court-based commercial dispute resolution.

The new court deserves support as it can significantly boost legal services here, as Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon noted last year, and help to internationalise and export Singapore law.