The sheer scale and geographic spread of the belt and road raises the prospect of complex cross-border commercial disputes, which will often involve multi-national parties and jurisdictions lacking many of the features that set Singapore apart. It is therefore no wonder that, with a number of new initiatives, Singapore continues to defend its title as one of the world's foremost international dispute resolution centres.
Consideration of conditional fee arrangements
One development that will be of particular interest to parties looking to engage legal representation in Singapore relates to conditional fee arrangements (CFAs). CFAs, where lawyers are paid only if a claim is successful, are generally prohibited in Singapore, where the long-standing English law principles of maintenance and champerty continue to apply - although a limited exception applies in permitted cases involving third party funding.
On 28 August, Singapore's Law Ministry announced that it is seeking public feedback on the use of CFAs, which are being considered for international and domestic arbitration cases, "specified proceedings in the Singapore International Commercial Court" and connected mediation cases. Broadening the exception for CFAs will benefit parties by enabling them to enter into more creative risk-sharing fee arrangements that fit with their own commercial approach and interests and to select their team from a wider range of counsel, as has been the experience in other common law jurisdictions such as the UK and US which already allow the use of these arrangements.
Allowing the parties more flexibility in fee arrangements and choice of counsel will be especially relevant to many belt and road-related disputes where the projects are high-value, the issues are technically and legally complex and cash flow can be complicated.
Other recent developments
On 7 August 2019, the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (Singapore Convention) was signed in Singapore by 46 countries. Signatories include the world's two largest economies, the United States and China, as well as some of Asia's largest economies, India and South Korea. The Singapore Convention will come into effect once at least three countries have ratified it, which is expected to happen by early 2020.
The signing of the Singapore Convention is unprecedented. While individual jurisdictions have recognised the advantages of mediation as a collaborative dispute resolution mechanism, its use in cross-border disputes remains rare – in no small part due to concerns over enforcement. By creating a presumption in favour of enforceability, the Singapore Convention is an important step in the development of mediation as a global tool.