Legislative changes tabled to establish the Singapore International Commercial Court and to update the regulatory framework for the legal profession
1. The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) has submitted four Bills for First Reading in Parliament today. The Bills are: the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill; the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Bill; the Legal Profession (Amendment) Bill 2014 and the Public Trustee (Amendment) Bill.
2. The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill and the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Bill include amendments that will enable the establishment of the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), while the Legal Profession (Amendment) Bill 2014 contains amendments to implement regulatory framework changes recommended by the Committee to Review the Regulatory Framework of the Singapore Legal Services Sector (Regulatory Committee) along with SICC-related and other miscellaneous amendments.
Singapore International Commercial Court
3. The SICC is intended to address the increase in international commercial litigation work arising from the growth in cross-border trade and investment in Asia. Building on the success of the arbitration sector, the SICC will enhance Singapore’s position as the leading venue for dispute resolution in Asia and is expected to attract more legal work to Singapore. The SICC targets cases which would not otherwise be heard in Singapore, such as cross-border commercial disputes governed by foreign law. By drawing these cases to Singapore, Singapore law firms will benefit, just as they have from the strong growth in the arbitration sector. Benefits include involvement in high-value complex cross-border disputes, exposure to eminent international jurists, as well as opportunities to work with foreign litigators and their clients.
4. The SICC will hear international commercial disputes including those governed by foreign law. Its key features are:
• Establishment as a division of the Singapore High Court. This means that SICC judgments can be enforced as judgments of the Supreme Court of Singapore;
• Diverse panel of judges that will include eminent international jurists (called International Judges) and existing Supreme Court Judges;
• Open court proceedings although parties may apply for the proceedings to be confidential
• Flexibility for parties to seek leave of court to apply alternative rules of evidence which they may be more familiar with; and to appoint foreign-qualified lawyers to represent them in court in accordance with the Rules of Court and the new Part IVB of the Legal Profession Act. The circumstances under which a foreign-qualified lawyer may appear in the SICC, namely, cases with no substantial connection to Singapore, or to address the court on matters of foreign law, will be set out in subsidiary legislation.
Modernising Singapore’s regulatory regime for the legal profession
5. The Legal Profession (Amendment) Bill 2014 carries amendments to implement the recommendations made by the Regulatory Committee. These seek to modernise Singapore’s regulatory framework for lawyers and law practices, so as to maintain high professional standards even as the legal industry continues to grow as a high-value segment of the economy.
6. The following changes will be made:
• Establishment of a new Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) to take over existing regulatory functions performed by the Law Society of Singapore for Singapore law practices; and the Attorney-General for foreign law practices and the registration of foreign-qualified lawyers (FLs).
• Establishment of a Professional Conduct Council (PCC) chaired by the Chief Justice to oversee all relevant rules relating to professional conduct matters for all Singapore-qualified (SL) and foreign-qualified lawyers practising law in Singapore, as well as the management of law practices.
• Streamlining the professional disciplinary regime for FLs to come under the same framework as SLs, but with one FL member represented at every stage, namely the Review Committee, the Inquiry Committee and Disciplinary Tribunal, and appealable to the Court of Three Judges for final disposal.
• Introducing the regulatory framework for law practices to adopt a limited form of alternative business structure - Legal Disciplinary Practices (LDPs) - such that valued non-lawyer employees can now take equity in the firm.
7. In November 2013, the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) Committee, chaired by then-Justice V K Rajah and Senior Minister of State for Law, Ms Indranee Rajah, recommended the establishment of the SICC as a division of the High Court, to hear international commercial disputes. The SICC was proposed to bolster Singapore’s ability to provide a full suite of commercial dispute resolution services (spanning litigation, arbitration and mediation) and address the rise in complex cross-border commercial disputes arising from the growth in trade and investment into Asia.
8. Separately, the Regulatory Committee, chaired by then-Attorney General Sundaresh Menon, had also submitted its set of recommendations to MinLaw on 21 January 2014. The recommendations were aimed at modernising the regulatory regime of the legal profession in Singapore, which now comprises not only SLs and Singapore law practices, but a growing number of FLs and international law practices practising foreign law, and where licensed to do so, Singapore law in permitted areas of legal practice.
9. For each of the Bills, the Ministry of Law had consulted extensively with stakeholders from the Supreme Court, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, the Law Society, members of the legal profession and the public. All feedback received has been duly considered and incorporated into the Bills where appropriate.