The opening of the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC) later this year and the forthcoming Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) will attract greater levels of international legal work to Singapore and bring benefits for its legal system, legal practitioners and the wider community, he said.
"Establishing the SIMC and the SICC will extend our success in arbitration, into adjacent areas of commercial mediation and court-based commercial litigation for international cases," Shanmugam told a committee of supply debate at the Singapore parliament "Developing Singapore's dispute resolution framework in this way will benefit all Singaporeans. It will add to the growing volume of legal work coming to our shore, and create significant opportunities for our lawyers based in Singapore and Singapore law practices."
"If successful, the SICC will attract more complex commercial litigation to Singapore and help develop our legal jurisprudence. There will also be other significant spin-offs in terms of increased demand for supporting services in non-legal services, for example, the tourism industry and the hospitality sector," he said.
The creation of the SIMC and SICC are intended to capitalise on the Asia Pacific region's economic growth of recent years by creating a vibrant international legal sector equipped to deal with cross-border disputes.
Plans for the new institutions aim to build on the success of the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) which was established in 1991, and which has an international panel of more than 380 independent arbitrators from over 32 different jurisdictions, according to the Singapore Academy of Law. SIAC awards have been enforced by courts in Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, the UK, USA and Vietnam amongst other countries. SIAC attracted a case load of 235 cases in 2012, a 25% increase on the previous year, and is currently handling an active caseload of over 550 cases.
Shanmugam's ministry is now working with the Singapore Business Federation, Singapore Academy of Law and SIAC to establish the SIMC, which Shanmugam said will open later this year.
A committee has also been set up to develop the SICC, which Shanmugam has said will be developed as a division of Singapore's High Court, with its judgments enforced as those of the High Court. The development will require amendments to Singapore's constitution.
In a statement which welcomed the development of SICC last December the Singapore Law Ministry said: "The continued growth in trade and investment in Asia has led to a significant rise in commercial transactions in the region. Against this backdrop, the number and complexity of cross-border disputes is expected to increase, enabling the legal services sector in the Asia Pacific to grow significantly.. Building on the success of the arbitration sector in Singapore, the proposed international commercial court will make Singapore an even more attractive venue for dispute resolution in Asia and beyond."
Judge of appeal, Justice V K Rajah, co-chair of the SICC Committee said at the time: “The SICC could attract cases which otherwise have no connection to Singapore, and provide litigants engaged in cross border disputes in Asia with a forum that has a closer geographical nexus to the dispute than traditional neutral choice of courts, which are outside Asia.”
Addressing the parliament yesterday, Shanmugam said: "Establishing the SIMC and the SICC will extend our success in arbitration, into adjacent areas of commercial mediation and court-based commercial litigation for international cases."
Shanmugam also told parliament that he is reviewing Singapore's bankruptcy regime and considering creating a more rehabilitative system, which would allow bankrupts to be eligible for discharge within a set timeframe.
Senior minister of state for law Indranee Rajah also told parliament that the Ministry of Law is planning a central credit bureau, which might establish a cap on the level of unsecured debt an individual is allowed to borrow.
She said: "In regulating the moneylending industry, we have to maintain a balance between allowing borrowers reasonable access to credit and providing them, especially those with lower income, with adequate protection. We are cognizant that some borrowers turn to moneylenders in desperation and this makes them vulnerable to exploitation," she said.