As a junior lawyer just over 30 years ago, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon successfully argued before Judicial Commissioner Chan Sek Keong not to allow lawyers on their way to Singapore to argue an arbitration case here, as doing so would be against the provisions of the Legal Profession Act.
Although that proved a setback to any arbitration centre expectations then, Singapore today has become one of the most open arbitration venues in the world, reflecting its remarkable growth in the field, said CJ Menon.
Giving the keynote speech before an international audience at the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) Congress 2018 on Thursday, he called for continuity in preparing future generations of arbitration practitioners and lawyers who can keep the flag flying.
CJ Menon said SIAC was intimately tied with Singapore's arbitration success story and "parties from all corners of the globe routinely elect Singapore as the seat of their arbitrations".
But among the challenges was to ensure a constant pipeline of trained and future-ready practitioners.
He noted that every major arbitral institution and professional arbitration organisation has a chapter for younger members like the Young International Group of the London Chamber of International Arbitration, and the Young SIAC.
He said these initiatives gave younger professionals valuable opportunities to network and exchange ideas, but even more could be done to ensure they get the necessary training and experience.
To this end, CJ Menon suggested a "low bono" scheme enabling younger practitioners to gain experience as arbitrators in smaller-value disputes, for a relatively low fee.
SUPPORT FOR YOUNG LAWYERS
It will motivate fledgling lawyers from the get-go who are embarking on their arbitration journey. The Law Society Arbitration Scheme is a useful precedent to build from.
LAW SOCIETY PRESIDENT GREGORY VIJAYENDRAN, on Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon's proposed "low bono" scheme for younger practitioners to gain experience as arbitrators in smaller-value disputes, for a relatively low fee.
He said that while this would overlap with other options currently available for settling low-quantum disputes, such as the Law Society's pro-bono arbitration scheme, such a proposed SIAC scheme could be diffrentiated.
For example, unlike the Law Society's ceiling of $20,000, it could apply to disputes valued up to $100,000, or even more if the parties consent, he said.
CJ Menon said young practitioners in the scheme must have the skills and qualification to handle an actual dispute, but SIAC could also provide guidance by having experienced seniors from its main panel mentor their younger colleagues.
At the gala dinner in the evening, Second Law Minister Indranee Rajah cited a prestigious international survey released last week that showed SIAC is now the third most preferred arbitral institution in the world, while Singapore is now the third most preferred seat of arbitration globally.
"This also means that SIAC and Singapore are now the most preferred institution and seat in Asia," she said, noting dispute resolution and arbitration will be an important part of the next phase of Singapore's development.
Similarly lauding Singapore's and SIAC's achievements in his opening address, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said that how well the arbitration community is able to grow will depend on how it responds to the evolving landscape.
The SIAC Congress 2018 brought together more than 350 delegates from here and all over the world, including lawyers, judges and eminent members of the international arbitration community, to discuss future directions for global arbitration.
Responding to the CJ's proposed scheme, Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran said: "It will motivate fledgling lawyers from the get-go who are embarking on their arbitration journey. The Law Society Arbitration Scheme is a useful precedent to build from."