Yesterday, on 25 February 2020, Singapore and Fiji became the first two countries to deposit at the United Nations Headquarters their instruments of ratification of the Singapore Convention, more formally known as the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation. Singapore and Fiji have taken an important step towards bringing the Singapore Convention closer to coming into force.

The Convention will commence operation six months after three signatory states have ratified it into their domestic law. All it will now take therefore, for the clock to start ticking, is one more signatory state to deposit its instrument of ratification at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Earlier this month, on 4 February 2020, the Singapore Convention on Mediation Bill was passed into law, though its provisions have yet to come into effect. The Bill was effectively fast-tracked through the Singapore Parliament given it was only tabled on 6 January 2020 for its first reading. The main purpose of enacting the Bill was to implement the Convention in Singapore and therefore allow for ratification.

The Singapore Convention was first opened during a signing ceremony and conference held in Singapore on 7 August 2019, where Singapore hosted more than 1500 delegates from 70 countries. 46 countries signed the Convention on the day. In the months following the signing ceremony, 6 other countries signed the Convention bringing the current total number of signatories to the Convention to 52. For more information on the signing ceremony and conference in August 2019, please click here and here to read our previous posts. A full current list of the signatories can be found at the foot of this blog post.

Speaking in Parliament on 3 February 2020, during the second reading of the Bill, Senior Minister of State for Law in Singapore Edwin Tong stated that a key challenge that parties face when dealing with a business dispute which has settled is ensuring the counterparty complies with the terms of the agreement. While a mediated settlement agreement is contractually binding, it is not itself directly enforceable in courts unlike a court judgment or an arbitral award. He emphasised that this difficulty was also highlighted by the 2016 Global Pound Conference Survey where respondents indicated that legislation or conventions that promote the recognition and enforcement of settlements including those reached in mediation would most improve commercial dispute resolution.

The Singapore Convention is an answer to a number of themes we observed at the Global Pound Conference series. That series sought the views of thousands of dispute resolution stakeholders across the globe on various issues, including which developments would most improve commercial dispute resolution. The Convention's proper impact however, and in particular whether it will be as significant as the New York Convention, remains to be seen. Meaningful engagement by signatory states through their domestic institutions, practitioners and businesses is required. In addition, making effort to promote ratification by signatory states will be important, as will be continued engagement with states that have not yet signed the Convention. Singapore and Fiji's ratification, nevertheless, is an important step forward in building this international framework supportive of mediation.

Signatories as at 25 February 2020: Afghanistan, Armenia (26 Sep 2019), Belarus, Belize, Brunei, Chad (26 Sep 2019), Chile, China, Colombia, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador (25 Sep 2019), Kingdom of Eswatini, Fiji, Gabon (25 Sep 2019), Georgia, Grenada, Guinea-Bissau (26 Sep 2019), Haiti, Honduras, India, Iran, Israel, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Montenegro, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Palau, Paraguay, Philippines, Qatar, Rwanda (28 Jan 2020), South Korea, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, the US, Uruguay and Venezuela. The rest of the countries signed the Convention on 7 August 2019.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.