07 May 2021

'A real staging post' - Singapore shares joint billing with London as premier arbitration centre

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The SIAC

Singapore and Hong Kong move up rankings as the status of Paris slips, according to major survey

Singapore has ranked jointly with London as the world’s favourite arbitration centre in a survey of more than 1,200 in-house lawyers, arbitrators and practitioners.

Some 54% of respondents to the 12th International Arbitration Survey, which was conducted by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and White & Case, identified the city state as one of their preferred seats, the same proportion who chose London.

It is the first time Singapore has topped the ranking, an accolade that comes off the back of a doubling of its caseload in 2020. Singapore was ranked third in 2018’s survey and fourth in 2015. 

London retained its number one slot, albeit shared, although the proportion of respondents who selected it fell from 64% in 2018. Hong Kong, meanwhile, was a strong challenger, moving up from fourth to third with 50% of the sample choosing it, compared to just 28% in the prior survey. 

Paris dropped to fourth (36%) from second in 2018, when it was identified as a preferred centre by 53% of the respondents.

The Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) also topped the poll for most preferred Asian arbitral institution, second globally only to the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).

Singapore’s reputation as a hub for international disputes was boosted by strong 2020 caseload figures for its arbitral centre (SIAC), with a 125% increase in case filings to 1,080 and just shy of a 5% increase in the value of sums under dispute, to $8.49bn. It is the first time that SIAC has passed the 1,000-caseload threshold, more than doubling the 479 cases filed in 2019 and representing a 169% increase from the 402 new cases filed in 2018. The number of filings received by SIAC has increased five-fold in the last decade.

Charles Kimmins QC, a barrister at Twenty Essex, London, noted that the increased caseload in Singapore reflected a general increase in arbitration figures globally. The the London Court of International Arbitration’s (LCIA) and the ICC also reported record numbers of new cases in 2020.

SIAC’s international reach – it has offices in China, India, South Korea, and New York, which opened in December 2020 – was also reflected in its statistics; 94% of new cases heard in 2020 were international. Wilmer Hale’s Gary Born, president of SIAC’s Court of Arbitrators, said the numbers would “spur us to work even harder … to fulfil our goal of being the leading choice of users all over the world”.

Daniel Kalderimis, a barrister based at Twenty Essex in Singapore, called the survey findings “a real staging post for Singapore, which is on the way to being recognised in the coming years as the world’s leading international dispute resolution hub.  This reflects Singapore’s infrastructure, geography, international connectivity and legal stability.”

Singapore was not the only Asian hearing centre to benefit from the rise in arbitration’s popularity, given the increase in Hong Kong’s ranking. The Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC) was voted as the third-most popular arbitral institution overall; China’s CIETAC, meanwhile, finished fifth. 

While HKIAC’s caseload has not grown to the same extent as SIAC’s, recording a 20% increase in administered arbitrations in 2020, to SIAC’s 125%, 44% of respondents selected HKIAC as a preferred arbitral institution, an increase of 17% since the last survey. This is despite the ongoing controversy surrounding China’s clampdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

Paris, meanwhile, was expected to benefit from Brexit, with 70% of respondents in 2018 saying it would profit from any adverse effects of the UK’s departure from the EU. 

Its fall in popularity comes despite a heavy marketing campaign, including virtual arbitration events in both 2020 and 2021. However, there was support for the ICC, as a Paris-based arbitral institution, which topped the poll of preferred arbitral institutions, as it did in 2018 and 2015. 

As for London, the LCIA’s most recent report, which was published in January 2020, revealed a 10% increase in 2019’s figures, one of its most successful years to date, while the London Maritime Arbitration Association reported its highest case numbers since 2015, with 1,775 new cases.

Survey respondents, however, identified the LCIA as only the fourth-most popular arbitral institution – it was in second place in 2018. 

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