Singapore looks to capture the East’s international legal industry.

As Singapore celebrates 50 years of independence from Malaysia, the government has been working hard to promote the impressive international achievements of this tiny island.

With the fourth financial centre of the world and an historically êntrepot economy, Singapore is now looking to the international legal industry to inject new growth.

As Singapore heralded its new legal year on 5th January, the Attorney-General’s Chambers also celebrated the opening of the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC). Alongside a series of other investments into its legal services sector and the establishment of the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC), this institution is the keystone of Singapore’s campaign to become an international centre for legal mediation.

Whilst currently most European and American firms take transnational cases back to a firm’s central office, the SICC wants to become the alternative location for arbitration in Asia. If it succeeds, Singapore could both reduce this costly common practice and bring growth to its saturated domestic legal industry.

Singapore is uniquely positioned to capture this international market. Since the 1980s, English has become the first-language of most Singaporeans and, as well as retaining a loosely British legal framework, Singapore has been ranked the 7th least corrupt nation in the world – ahead of America, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom.[1]

As the new Attorney-General, Viljaya Kumar Rajah S.C. was keen to stress, ‘In fifty years, Singapore has managed to create a legal environment that is, and should be, the envy of the emerging economies of the world.’ As well as praising Singapore’s domestic strengths, he repeatedly emphasized Singapore’s status a ‘Legal Services Hub.’ Indeed, established 20 years ago, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) has been crucial in promoting international confidence in Singapore’s legal eco-system which Rajah wishes to capitalize on.

There are encouraging signs that Rajah’s hopes will come to fruition. The SICC could notably reduce the high legal costs of doing business in Asia and this potential has already been recognised by the number of law firms that travelled to Singapore for the new legal year to celebrate the opening of their new annexes.

If these firms commit to diverting international cases to their Singapore annexes, benefits will be felt amongst those in the legal trade and beyond: reducing the legal costs for international companies in Asia could improve business across trades.

Originally published as Singapore to Become Southeast Asian Legal HubASEAN Briefing  on 4 February 2015.

Image: Odires Mlászho

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