Cross-border transactions bring with them the promise of increased expertise and lower costs—but they aren’t always risk-free. Because when companies from different countries engage in trade, an important question arises: which jurisdiction will potential disputes be settled in?

For Ms Sofie Kho[1]—the general counsel of a well-established Indonesian real estate developer—it was important that disputes were settled in a well-developed and neutral jurisdiction with a suite of dispute resolution tools on hand. She found that Singapore, with its facilities like the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), proved both efficient and neutral. The SIAC, she discovered, was able to rule on a range of issues, among them construction matters to environmental standards. Commented Ms Kho, “SIAC has experts with different industry expertise, who will be able to make professional and fair judgments should disputes happen in future.”

Beyond these mechanisms, Ms Kho also had confidence in the legal talent she found in the country. She identified a legal expert, Mr Kelvin Aw, who updated her company’s construction and consultancy templates. Mr Aw, now a Director at CMS Holborn Asia, brought deep specialist expertise that helped Ms Kho align these templates with those used in Asia and internationally. This expertise led to Mr Aw’s accreditation as a Senior Accredited Specialist in Building and Construction Law by the Singapore Academy of Law. The Specialist Accreditation Scheme objectively accredits lawyers as “specialists” in their areas of practice. 

Mr Aw went further from the initial work brief to support Ms Kho’s efforts in ensuring that her firm taps on the advantages of Singapore’s dispute resolution system. “He helped us understand the importance of having solid dispute resolution clauses included into each contract, apart from the need to have a fair contract with contractors, and how to manage our risks as they arise.”

He also helped dispel the notion that mediation was unsuitable for international commercial disputes. “For those who would like to have the best of both worlds, the Singapore International Mediation Centre’s (SIMC) protocol for Arb-Med-Arb (or ‘AMA’) provides an avenue for disputants who have started arbitration proceedings at the SIAC to avail themselves to a mediation process, with a view to achieving an early resolution of the dispute,” explained Mr Aw.

“The mediators are drawn from a wide pool of international practitioners with specific sector experience, and this provides assurances of neutrality and competence, just as arbitration does. The sophistication offered by such cross-fertilisation of dispute resolution mechanisms is exactly what parties to complex building and construction disputes can benefit from. There is no one-size-fits-all model for such disputes.”

  • Did you know?
    Singapore’s status as an important player in international commercial mediation was cemented with the signing of the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (the “Singapore Convention on Mediation”) in August 2019.
  • The Singapore Convention…
    • Applies to international settlement agreements resulting from mediation, concluded by parties to resolve a commercial dispute.
    • Provides an efficient and harmonised framework for the enforcement of international settlement agreements resulting from mediation and for allowing parties to invoke such agreements.

Adopting a future-ready approach to his work also meant that Mr Aw was also able to introduce Ms Kho to up-and-coming tools and not just existing ones. These include the Singapore Infrastructure Dispute-Management Protocol (SIDP), an initiative of the Republic’s Ministry of Law. Announced just last year, SIDP will help parties proactively manage differences to prevent them from escalating into disputes, and minimise the risks of time and cost overruns.

Under the new protocol, parties will, from the start of the project, appoint a Dispute Board comprising up to three neutral professionals who are experts in relevant fields such as engineering, quantity surveying and law. The Dispute Board will follow the project from start to finish and proactively help manage potential issues through a range of customised dispute avoidance and resolution processes.

This vibrant legal landscape, combined with top-notch talent, have further raised Ms Kho’s confidence in Singapore’s dispute resolution sector. She had already been familiar with the island’s popularity as a dispute resolution hub, thanks to tenants in their property who first expressed their preference to use Singapore’s dispute resolution institutions and services.

  • Did You Know?
    Users of legal services can now refer to a directory of accredited specialists in building and construction law for complex advisory and representation needs. Under the Singapore Academy of Law’s Specialist Accreditation Scheme, these lawyers, having fulfilled a stringent set of criteria and successfully undergone an assessment process, have been accredited as specialists by the Specialist Accreditation Board. Click here for information about the Scheme or to find an accredited specialist.

[1] False names have been used to protect the identity of individuals and maintain anonymity