The SIAC Annual Report 2020: Highlights and Takeaways

Singapore

This article is produced by CMS Holborn Asia, a Formal Law Alliance between CMS Singapore and Holborn Law LLC.

Correct as at 15 July 2021. This article is not being maintained.

The Singapore International Arbitration Centre (“SIAC”) published its Annual Report 2020 recently, reporting another year of record growth in case load and expansion of its offices beyond Asia. In this article, we summarise some of the Report’s key highlights and takeaways.

Record increase in case load

SIAC reported 1,080 new cases filed in 2020 – more than double the previous year with 94% (1018 cases) international in nature and 6% (62) domestic. This was the first time that SIAC’s caseload crossed the 1000-case threshold and in the context of the last decade, it represents a more than five-fold increase over 10 years. Parties from 60 jurisdictions arbitrated USD 8.49bn in disputes, representing a 4.9% increase from the previous year. The average value for new case filings was USD 19.26 million and the highest sum in dispute for a single administered case just shy of USD 1bn.

Expansion beyond Asia

In 2020 SIAC launched a representative office in New York, its fifth office overseas and first outside of Asia. This appears to be a timely move as 2020 saw the biggest leap in foreign users coming from US parties, with 545 parties from the US – a 738 per cent increase from 65 in 2019. The US is now the second highest foreign user of the SIAC after long time top user, India (690) and before third-ranked foreign user, China (165).

Besides the US, there was also a significant increase in the number of parties from Switzerland, Vietnam and the Cayman Islands compared to 2019.

Sectors

The claims filed with SIAC spanned a broad range of sectors, with trade (64% of the overall cases), commercial, corporate and maritime/shipping leading the way. The rest of the claims came from a variety of other sectors, including construction/engineering, agriculture, arts/entertainment, aviation, banking/financial services, commodities, education, employment, energy, healthcare/ pharmaceuticals, hospitality/travel, insurance/reinsurance, IP/IT, media/broadcasting, mining, real estate, regulatory, sports, technology/science, telecommunications and treaty interpretation/rights.

Governing Laws

The governing laws for new cases referred to SIAC in 2020 remained extremely diverse, with laws of 20 different jurisdictions, including civil and mixed law jurisdictions, being applied. The laws of Singapore (76%), the United Kingdom (9%) and India (2%) continue to be the most applied.

Arbitrator Appointments

Of the 143 arbitrator appointments in 2020, 126 of these were sole arbitrators and 17 were appointed to three-member tribunals. 127 of the appointments were made under the SIAC Rules, 15 in ad hoc arbitrations, and 1 under other arbitral rules. Of the 143 SIAC appointed arbitrators, 46 (or 32.2%) were female. This appears to be a decrease from the prior year where 36.5% of the SIAC-appointed arbitrators were female. Gender diversity on the SIAC’s Court of Arbitration remains the same as the previous year, in terms of numbers, with 10 female members.

In terms of geographical diversity, of the 288 appointments, 35% and 27% were non-Singaporean arbitrators appointed by SIAC and by the parties respectively. 6% were non-Singapore arbitrators nominated by co-arbitrators.

Usage of Procedural Rules

  1. Challenges to arbitrators: A total of 4 challenges to arbitrators were decided by the SIAC Court of Arbitration in 2020, 3 of which were rejected and 1 upheld.

  2. Emergency Arbitrators: SIAC accepted all 20 applications received to appoint an Emergency Arbitrator in 2020, bringing the total number of applications accepted since the introduction of Emergency Arbitrator provisions in 2010 to 114.

  3. Expedited Procedure: Out of 88 requests for Expedited Procedure, 37 were accepted.

  4. Early Dismissal: Out of the 5 applications for the Early Dismissal of claims and defences received in 2020,2 were allowed to proceed (and both subsequently rejected), 1 was not allowed to proceed, and 2 are pending. The notably low rate of success in Early Dismissal applications appears to reflect the high legal threshold required for such applications to be allowed.

  5. Consolidation and Joinder: SIAC received 69 applications for consolidation and 6 applications for joinder, of which 36 and 2 respectively were granted as of 31 December 2020.

Other takeaways

In the midst of a pandemic, parties are increasingly activating dispute resolution options available to them and SIAC is well-positioned in a city state long seen as an arbitration-friendly centre for regional and global businesses looking for confidentiality, neutrality and the cross-border enforceability of awards. With years of consistent focus on growing its dispute resolution institutions and introducing legislation to facilitate such growth, Singapore has achieved status as a favoured dispute resolution ‘hub’, with SIAC being arguably one of its biggest success stories.

Author’s Note

In June 2021, it was clarified by the Ministry of Law that of the 1,080 new cases SIAC received in 2020, there were two sets of related cases, involving 261 cases and 145 cases. If the two sets of related cases were excluded from the total caseload for 2020, the number of cases would then be 674 cases. That said, this would still be a significant increase in SIAC’s caseload from the 479 cases in 2019.