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Dispute resolution

The courts in Singapore hear a full range of civil and criminal matters, and are empowered to make orders in respect of damages, specific performance and injunctions. The courts are divided into the Subordinate Courts and the Supreme Court, and cases are filed before these courts according to the monetary amounts involved.

The Subordinate Courts comprise of the District and Magistrate Courts, both of which oversee civil and criminal matters, as well as specialized family, juvenile, coroner’s courts and the Small Claims Tribunal, which handles civil claims for amounts below S$10,000. The Supreme Court is made up of the High Court and the Court of Appeal and hears both civil and criminal matters. The Court of Appeal hears appeals against decisions of the High Court in both civil and criminal matters and has been Singapore’s final court of appeal since 8 April 1994, when appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council were abolished.

Singapore’s court system is transparent and efficient. In recent years, far-reaching changes have been made within the Supreme Court and the Subordinate Courts to rationalize and standardize court rules into a single uniform set of rules to ensure uniformity of practice and consistency. The courts have also been increasingly vigilant in ensuring that orders of court are complied with and parties do not prolong the process of litigation unnecessarily. These measures have been relatively far-reaching and have resulted in a drastic reduction in case backlog.

Singapore as a nation is committed to promoting international arbitration as a means of resolving commercial disputes within the region. Recently, changes to the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161) were introduced to allow foreign lawyers to represent parties in arbitration in Singapore. This is in addition to the Qualifying Foreign Law Firm scheme, which grants foreign law firms a license to practice Singapore law in designated practice areas through Singapore-qualified lawyers employed by the firms.

Singapore has world-class facilities for arbitration and a full range of qualified arbitrators registered with the Singapore International Arbitration Centre, which has fairly comprehensive arbitration rules which can be adopted by parties involved in a dispute. Singapore is now home to the world’s first integrated dispute resolution center for international arbitration cases, namely the Maxwell Chambers.

Arbitration generally affords more privacy to the parties in dispute as compared to litigation. The other key feature of international arbitration is that there are better prospects of enforcing an international arbitration award in other countries within the region than enforcing a foreign court judgement. This is often perceived as a useful risk-management tool for parties doing business in Asia.

As a result of recent amendments to the International Arbitration Act (Cap 143A), the Singapore High Court is now empowered to provide interim relief in aid of arbitrations seated in countries other than Singapore. Before this amendment, the High Court had interpreted the power to provide interim relief conferred by the International Arbitration Act as excluding foreign arbitrations. Parties considering making an application to the Singapore High Court for interim relief will have now greater flexibility to do so.