In recent years, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (“SIAC”) has emerged as one of the most popular options for international disputes in Asia and more broadly. However, parties have increasingly flagged delay and inefficiency as key concerns in international arbitration. The revised version of the SIAC Rules of Arbitration is aimed at addressing those concerns. The new rules will come into effect on 1 August and according to Gary Born, the SIAC Court’s president, will keep SIAC at “the cutting edge of international arbitration practice”.
One of the most significant innovations is the new procedure for early dismissal of claims and defences. This has long been an option for parties before certain national courts. However, it has not been on offer in international arbitration. Instead, parties have had to argue cases to their final conclusion regardless of the strength of the parties’ claims. This can be a frustrating and costly experience. This is especially so where a party is faced with defending against a weak or speculative claim. The new procedure therefore allows a claimant to proceed quickly to an enforceable award if the respondent’s defence lacks any legal basis or is outside the tribunal’s jurisdiction. It also allows a respondent to strike-out weak and speculative claims made against it. SIAC is the first major arbitral institution to include this type of provision in its rules. It will likely be an important differentiator for SIAC and may well increase its popularity as the forum of choice for commercial parties. If the procedure works well, other major arbitral institutions are likely to adopt it.
SIAC has also made other changes to streamline its procedure. For example, the emergency arbitrator provisions now include a 14-day deadline for granting interim relief. This reflects the concern that emergency arbitrators sometimes do not act with the urgency that their titles imply. The threshold for the popular expedited procedure also has been raised, from SG$5 million to SG$6 million.
The new rules include sophisticated multi-party and multi-contract provisions, allowing for consolidation and joinder. This brings them into line with the rules offered by competitor institutions such as the ICC and HKIAC. But rather than simply imitating the rules of other institutions, SIAC has aimed to improve on them. In particular, its consolidation provisions allow parties to file a single Notice of Arbitration commencing multiple arbitrations under different contracts, along with an application for consolidation. This means that if consolidation is not granted, a party would not have to re-commence proceedings separately, providing added certainty.
The new SIAC Rules contain a number of notable innovations, in particular the early dismissal procedure. Largely, however, the changes reflect an incremental approach, aimed at promoting efficiency where possible and keeping up to date with current arbitral practice. While delay and cost will likely remain a concern for parties, the revised rules go some significant way to addressing those problems.