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Singapore and Hong Kong update arbitration laws to reflect Model Law

16 August 2009

Hong Kong and Singapore are racing each other to amend their respective arbitration laws to ensure that they remain current and user-friendly. 

At present, Hong Kong’s arbitration law is the Arbitration Ordinance (Cap 341), which has applied a split regime.  For domestic arbitrations, the regime has been based upon prior English legislation (with some Singaporean influence).  For international arbitrations, the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration has essentially been applied.  Some provisions of the Ordinance have applied to both forms of arbitration and parties have been able to switch between the two regimes.  In a bid to make the system less confusing, the Department of Justice drew up a draft bill in 2007, which has been moving through the system and is expected to pass in the present legislative session.  The bill would create a unitary regime for all arbitrations, based very closely on the Model Law.  The second reading of the bill before the Legislative Council was held on 8 July 2009.

For its part, Singapore’s Ministry of Law is proposing amendments to bring Singapore’s International Arbitration Act – which is also based upon the Model Law – into line with some, but not all, of the amendments made to the Model Law in 2006.  The draft Bill can be found here.  Of most significance is s 12A of the Bill, which would reverse the effect of the Singapore Court of Appeal decision in Swift-Fortune Ltd v Magnifica Marine SA [2007] 1 SLR 629, which held that a Singapore court has no statutory power under the Act to grant interim orders or relief to assist arbitration abroad.  That power would be expressly incorporated.  The Bill does not, however, go so far as Chapter 4A of the First Schedule to New Zealand’s Arbitration Act 1996, which adopted the 2006 Model Law amendments permitting arbitral tribunals themselves to issue interim measures.