China: Best of both worlds? - international disputes in Singapore and Dubai

Last Updated: 14 July 2015
Article by Paul Stothard and Alexis Namdar

There is intense and constant competition to be a venue of choice for international disputes. To gain an edge, the Dubai International Financial Centre i("DIFC") and the proposed Singaporean International Commercial Court ("SICC") are exploring whether it is possible to combine the most attractive features of international arbitration and litigation before national courts. Each means of dispute resolution has its own well known set of advantages and disadvantages.ii

This article considers two recent announcements:

  • that of a new "umbrella" dispute resolution authority in the DIFC and
  • the further discussion of the proposed SICC at the inaugural congress of the Singapore International Arbitration Centre ("SIAC").iii

We look in particular at the efforts to:

  • ensure the international enforceability of judgments and
  • offer a broad panel of qualified, expert decision makers.

Proposals to Improve Reciprocal Enforceability

The paramount test of the effectiveness of any international dispute resolution process is that the winning party must be confident about the prospects of enforcing the final judgment or award.

International arbitration benefits from a well developed and tested global recognition and enforcement regime for arbitral awards embodied by the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the "NYC"), to which there are over one hundred and forty signatories, including all of the major trading nations of the world.

No such comprehensive enforcement regime exists with respect to national court judgments. Various measures have been proposed to address this, including the implementation of world-wide foreign judgments conventions, but so far nothing has been implemented.iv The enforceability of national judgments is still governed by diverse domestic national laws and a patchwork of bilateral, multilateral and regional treaty arrangements. Even where treaty arrangements exist between states with concordant legal frameworks and levels of judicial sophistication, judgment creditors often overlook how problematic enforcement can be in practice.

The DIFC Courts and the SICC have proposed contrasting approaches to augment the enforceability of the judgments issued by their respective dispute resolution centres.

Approach 1 to enforcement: The Dubai International Financial Centre – Awards, not Judgments

Since 31 October 2011v, parties to civil and commercial agreements have been able to choose the courts of the DIFC to resolve disputes relating to their agreements. The implementation of this "opt-in" jurisdiction represented a significant extension of the DIFC Courts' jurisdiction, which was previously restricted to disputes having a direct nexus to the DIFC. Parties may invoke the jurisdiction of the DIFC Court by making a submission pursuant to Article 5(A)(2) of Law No. 12 (as amended).

There are currently proposals vi whereby, as an adjunct to an Article 5 submission, a separate arbitration agreement may be concluded between the disputing parties to refer a dispute concerning the enforcement of a DIFC Court judgment to the DIFCLCIA Arbitration Centre. It is suggested that, like a submission to the DIFC Courts jurisdiction itself, a submission to arbitration may be concluded before or after a dispute arises. Such agreement may in effect convert a DIFC Court judgment into an arbitral award, so that the party seeking to enforce could then take advantage of the NYC to enforce the award quickly and easily in other jurisdictions.

While, on the face of it, this may allow the hybrid judgment/award to benefit from the greater international enforceability of arbitral awards, some doubt has been expressed as to whether such an award would be susceptible to enforcement under the NYC.

The NYC is limited in its application to commercial disputes,vii and it has been argued that a referral on a claim for collection or enforcement of a money judgment would not amount to a qualifying commercial dispute for the purposes of the NYC. While English courts would no longer have difficulty in identifying a commercial dispute in these circumstances viii, such an argument may still be sustained under the national laws of other member states.

Should this argument prove correct, then falling foul of the NYC's limitations would of course undermine the very purpose of a referral to arbitration at the DIFC-LCIA Arbitration Centre, given it could potentially create uncertainty as to international enforceability.ix The implementation of this proposal is still at the consultation stage and so it remains to be seen whether any steps can be taken to avoid this possible pitfall.

Further, any proposals will need to avoid jurisdictional conflicts arising under local law. Setting a number of referral criteria for the DIFC judgment could avoid such issues. These may include requirements that:

  • the DIFC judgment has taken effect x
  • such a judgment is for a payment of money
  • there is an enforcement dispute in relation to the judgment
  • the judgment is not subject to appeal and the time permitted for a party to apply to appeal has expired
  • the parties have agreed in writing to refer the enforcement dispute in accordance with the relevant amended practice direction.

Approach 2 to enforcement: The Singaporean International Commercial Court – Judgments, not Awards

In January 2013, the Singaporean Chief Justice announced the formation of a committee to study the possibility of establishing the SICC. The committee published an extensive report detailing proposals for the structure and powers of the proposed court on 3 December 2013.

In relation to enforceability of judgments, it has been reported that the SICC initially considered proposals akin to the "conversion" of judgments into awards currently proposed in the DIFC, but abandoned this at an early stage. Instead, the committee report confirms that the process now under consideration is for the SICC to render a conventional court judgment.

Speakers at the inaugural congress of the SIAC, including Singapore's Minister for Law, K Shamungan and Michael Hwang, a Senior Counsel of the Supreme Court of Singapore and Chief Justice of the DIFC Courts, confirmed that Singapore was looking to package its dispute resolution offering as a tri-partite offering including SIAC, the SICC and the Singapore International Mediation Centre. In their respective addresses, Minister Shamungan and Mr Hwang both confirmed that the Singaporean government was taking steps to ensure the wide and effective enforceability of SICC judgments.

The SICC report in particular set out various methods to bolster reciprocal enforceability outside of the existing enforcement provisions in place with Singapore xi including:

  • an increase in the use of bilateral protocols between national courts of friendly states (with express reference to pursuing an agreement with the English Commercial Court) for reciprocal referral of certain matters
  • exploring further multi-lateral agreements for the recognition and enforcement of judgments, both regionally and internationally. As to the latter option, Singapore is considering becoming a member of the new "Choice of Courts Convention", which has yet to enter into force.

If it does so, it would require contracting states (including the USA and all EU states other than Denmark), inter alia, to recognise and enforce foreign judgments obtained in proceedings based on a valid exclusive forum agreement.

It should be noted that, until any alternative proposals are implemented in the DIFC, the DIFC Court has also taken steps to enhance the enforceability of its judgments in much the same way as outlined in the recent SICC committee report, including entering into a memorandum of understanding with the Commercial Court in England and with the Supreme Court of New South Wales in Australia, both aimed at facilitating enforcement of judgments on a bilateral basis.

Proposals for Court Procedures

One aspect of arbitration that can be attractive for business is the wide pool of nationalities, backgrounds, legal traditions and expertise from which arbitrators may be drawn, allowing the selection of decision makers with specialist knowledge relevant to the industry or dispute in hand.

The DIFC and the SICC have been looking across both court proceedings and arbitration to create a "best of both worlds" approach with regard to the selection of judges.

In the SICC, the adjudicating panel is intended to include judges drawn from the Supreme Court bench, as the court will be part of the Supreme Court of Singapore, but, crucially, will also include appointed associate judges from more diverse backgrounds from both domestic and foreign pools. The associate judges will be assigned cases on an ad hoc basis depending on their specialism. This process is comparable to the selection of an arbitration tribunal by an appointing authority in that there is scope to tailor both subject matter specialisation and the legal background of the judges to the matter in dispute. The process, of course, is more limited than that of any arbitral panel nomination in that it is the chief justice who will serve as the appointing authority and there is no scope for further party autonomy (beyond selection of the court).

In this respect, there are similarities with the DIFC in that the DIFC judiciary is headed by a Singaporean Chief Justice and is comprised of two Emirati resident judges together with a number of experienced retired judges from other common law jurisdictions.


The proposed reforms in Singapore and Dubai demonstrate an international trend towards the packaging of litigation and arbitration together, or borrowing from the most appealing features of each, aimed at promoting regional dispute resolution hubs capable of attracting international parties.

Singapore and Dubai are emerging dispute resolution hubs, both of which score highly on any list of key considerations which bear upon the choice of arbitral seat (including: geographic convenience; development of infrastructure; typical governing law of disputed contracts; levels of direct foreign investment and presence of international legal advisors). Close consideration of the proposals emanating from their international courts is therefore a valuable exercise, and both the SICC and DIFC proposals, if adopted, may prove to be pioneering.

Finally, in Dubai, the announcement of the tri-partite Dubai Dispute Resolution Authority and the consideration of increasing the enforceability of DIFC Court judgments come at an interesting time for the development of the jurisdiction of the DIFC Court in general. The umbrella institute was announced just a matter of days after the DIFC Court of First Instance confirmed its jurisdiction to enforce a Dubai International Arbitration Centrexii award which has no connection to the DIFC and has not been ratified in the Dubai courts.xiii This judgment may have ramifications for the enforcement of awards in "onshore" Dubai, in that an applicant who succeeds in arguing the merits of an arbitration award's enforcement before the DIFC Court may take a DIFC Court Order for enforcement onshore in Dubai, rather than the underlying award. This is significant, as under the relevant legislation, the onshore Dubai courts do not have the jurisdiction to review the merits of a DIFC Court judgment and this could potentially circumvent an often time consuming process of award "ratification" onshore. It will be fascinating to see how the Dubai courts respond, as the status quo would suggest a means of importing both local and foreign arbitral awards through the DIFC Court as a portal to enforcement in the UAE and throughout the GCC.


i The Dubai Dispute Resolution Authority pursuant to the issuance of Dubai Law No. 7 of 2014 on 21 May 2014.

ii Including but not limited to ease of enforcement of a resulting decision, privacy and confidentiality of the proceedings and parties, the choice of the tribunal, precedent and transparency, flexibility of the process, neutrality of the forum and powers in relation to third parties to the dispute.

iii The SIAC inaugural congress took place on 6 June 2014.

iv Such as the Convention on Choice of Courts Agreements proposed by the member states of the Hague Conference on Private International Law (the "Choice of Courts Convention").

v Pursuant to Dubai Law No. 16 of 2011 ("Law No.16") signed on 31 October 2011, amending Dubai Law No. 12 of 2004.

vi The DIFC Courts announced a one month consultation period for a Draft Practice Direction on Referral of DIFC Court judgments to DIFC-LCIA Arbitration Centre for enforcement, closing on 6 August 2014.

vii Article II NYC "Each Contracting State shall recognize an agreement in writing under which the parties undertake to submit to arbitration all or any differences which have arisen or which may arise between them in respect of a defined legal relationship, whether contractual or not, concerning a subject matter capable of settlement by arbitration."

viii Originally reflected in the Arbitration Act 1975 s.1(i).

ix This latter distinction is an issue which has been considered by previous dispute resolution centres, including the nascent Bahraini BCDR, which adopted an ICC approach of the Terms of Reference requirement to circumvent this problem.

x For the purposes of Rule 36.30 of the Rules of the DIFC Court.

xi Including the Reciprocal Enforcement of Commonwealth Judgments Act and the Reciprocal Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act.

xii An "onshore" arbitration centre.

xiii Banyan Tree Corporate PTE Ltd v Meydan Group LLC [ARB-003-2013] on 27 May 2014.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:
  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.
  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

    By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions