Singapore Convention Week 2023 Provides Insights into the Future of Dispute Resolution, Attended by More Than 4500 participants
The Singapore Convention Week (SC Week) 2023 came to a conclusion after a successful run from 28 August to 1 September 2023. Organised by the Singapore Ministry of Law (MinLaw) in partnership with 29 partner organisations, SC Week 2023 featured a series of events focusing on various topics in dispute resolution that was attended by over 4500 disputes practitioners, general counsel, academia and government officials from all over the world.
Key Highlights & Insights from UNCITRAL Academy
As with previous editions, the UNCITRAL Academy, co-organised by MinLaw and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), was the highlight of SC Week 2023. Themed Tomorrow’s World Today: Leading the Future of Dispute Resolution, this year’s UNCITRAL Academy Conference and Capacity-Building Workshops were held from 29 to 31 August, and focused on navigating the future of dispute resolution, especially in a digital-first world against the backdrop of multiculturalism, sustainability and rapid changes.
In his welcome address at the opening of the UNCITRAL Academy Conference and Industry Capacity-Building Workshop, Singapore's Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, and Second Minister for Law, Mr Edwin Tong SC said, “Building the world today for tomorrow has always been Singapore’s philosophy since independence. We applied the same philosophy to developing Singapore into the leading international dispute resolution hub it is today. We also developed a comprehensive suite of international commercial dispute resolution services. The Singapore Convention on Mediation is one contributing instrument, that provides parties with another viable option to resolve cross-border disputes. To date, we have 56 signatories, and 11 Parties to the Convention. I am confident more will sign and ratify soon.”
Ms Anna Joubin-Bret, Secretary of UNCITRAL, said in her opening remarks, “Every year, the SC Week provides the forum for thought leaders, practitioners and users to discuss around shared values and practices, and to explore what lies ahead of us. The discussions in Singapore have helped us spark ideas, acquire new perspectives and develop our thoughts further. This event has greatly contributed to our work over the past years and we trust that it will continue to do so.”
There were many insightful and engaging discussions over the course of the UNCITRAL Academy:
a. In the ‘Dispute Resolution in the Digital Economy’ panel, panellists shared their insights on electronic awards and digital evidence. They also discussed the challenges of using AI in dispute resolution, and how its core principles could be safeguarded even as the society continues to innovate.
“We have to stay aware of the latest developments, and also stay abreast with the potential challenges that might arise, and this will have an effect on legal education and legal training as well. There needs to be a discussion on what the parameters are for the use of legal technology, and to figure out what we as a dispute resolution community find important. To what extent do we want to sacrifice the normative values that we now place at the centre for the greater good of efficiency, is the question we should really be asking, especially now, when due process concerns sometimes have to make way for arguments for user-friendliness and efficiency,” Professor Maud Piers, Associate Professor, Ghent University; Vice- President, Belgian Centre of Arbitration and Mediation (Cepani) said.
b. Mr Lionel Yee SC, Deputy Attorney-General, Singapore Attorney-General’s Chambers moderated a fireside chat with Dr Hab Marcin Czepelak, Secretary-General, Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), the oldest permanent intergovernmental institution dedicated to the settlement of international disputes. The PCA Secretary-General outlined, from the PCA’s perspective, the emerging trends in international dispute settlement involving States, including that there would be more new types of dispute settlement methods besides arbitration being used by States. He reaffirmed the importance of the PCA’s office in Singapore, and highlighted the PCA’s desire to partner with Singapore to promote mediation.
“The PCA tries to offer an institutional dimension to a mediation process, which should mitigate some of the risks associated with mediation by giving it legitimacy. So if we continue partnering with states that promote mediation such as Singapore, I think finally we will get to the point where we will have cases confirming the role of mediation and all the benefits that mediation brings to the table. But it is important to really put some trust in it and that is part of my role as Secretary-General to promote and create sufficient trust for mediation,” Dr Hab Marcin Czepelak noted.
c. In the ‘Investor-State Mediation’ panel, panellists drew from their own professional experiences in investor-state disputes to share why and how, in light of the problems facing investor-state dispute settlement today, mediation was an effective option for addressing such disputes. They identified the roadblocks preventing more widespread use of investor-state mediation, as well as what could be done to promote its use. The recently adopted UNCITRAL model treaty provisions and guidelines on investment mediation were highlighted as a useful tool. Other solutions discussed were making mediation available during the operation of an investment and not only after a notice of dispute, including express reference to the availability of mediation in arbitration procedural orders, as well as the possible role of the advisory centre for investor-state disputes being discussed in UNCITRAL Working Group III.
d. In the ‘Navigating Inter-Cultural Needs in Mediation and Arbitration’ panel, panellists discussed how cultures and inherent biases can be naturally and subconsciously incorporated into the way people conduct themselves or perform tasks, and how cultural differences can impact the approach taken in the resolution of disputes, which in turn, can influence the outcome of proceedings.
e. In the ‘Dispute Resolution for Carbon Markets’ panel, a panel of experts explained the workings of the carbon markets and shared the challenges and legal complications in the carbon markets as well as their insights on navigating carbon market disputes.
f. the Industry Capacity-Building Workshop, supported by the Singapore International Mediation Centre and titled ‘Mediation Advocacy: From Breakdown to Breakthrough’, the panellists discussed the importance of mediation advocacy for clients, counsel and mediators, and shared practical tips such as how to prepare for mediation and how to identify the ideal modality (whether in-person, virtual or hybrid) for mediation.
During his sharing on what it means to be a lawyer who is also a mediation advocate, Mr Francis Goh, Partner; Head, International Arbitration and Mediation, Harry Elias Partnership LLP shared “Mediation advocacy - it is not weakness. The trained mediation advocate is able to advance his clients’ interest. It is the wearing of steel gloves covered in velvet. It is about advancing the case towards finding a solution. Mediation advocacy is a critical element for all lawyers to embrace. You take it out, you switch hats as necessary. Mediation is just one toolkit within the dispute resolution spectrum that a trained dispute resolver will use effectively to advance his clients’ interest.”
g. The UNCITRAL Academy Conference ended with a lively debate on the motion ‘Robots are Better Arbitrators and Mediators than Humans’, during which the two teams gave their perspectives on whether AI can replace humans in this realm. Based on the audience’s votes, the debate concluded with the team representing humans winning the debate.
h. Apart from the Conference and Industry Capacity-Building Workshop, two other capacity-building workshops were held under the auspices of the UNCITRAL Academy, which were attended by government representatives from around the world.
The Government Capacity-Building Workshop, supported by the Singapore International Dispute Resolution Academy (SIDRA), featured speakers from countries that have made recent progress on the Singapore Convention on Mediation, who shared their experience in signing and ratifying the Convention. Participants also heard from experts and exchanged views on topics relating to regulatory incentives for lawyers, the attitude of the courts, and the establishment of legal frameworks, with regard to mediation.
The Investor-State Dispute Settlement Capacity-Building Workshop, supported by SIDRA and the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), explored the latest developments in the field of investment mediation. The workshop also looked at “myths” and practical challenges surrounding the use of investment mediation from the perspectives of different stakeholders, including issues such as the optimal time to mediate, and how to navigate the mediation process.
Leading local and international organisations such as the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC), the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), and the International Bar Association (IBA) also held panels and other events in conjunction with SC Week 2023.
Key Takeaways from SC Week 2023 Attendees
Attendees of SC Week 2023 shared their key takeaways:
a. “I find the program lineup very interesting. There are all sorts of people from different areas and all have a different take on dispute resolution. I like the panel discussions, especially the idea of the fireside chat. Instead of doing presentations, the panel discussions are a more comfortable setting,” Justice Mata Tuatagaloa, Judge at the Supreme Court of Samoa said.
b. “The programme is actually pretty eclectic. There is something for everyone, and most people look forward to the networking sessions. Everybody wants to meet old friends from faraway countries because they all converge in Singapore. The entire legal world, the entire global commons is descending upon Singapore, so what it tells me is that Singapore has developed rapidly and cemented its position as one of the world’s most important dispute resolution jurisdictions. I think that we are in that handful of jurisdictions that are important and front of mind,” Mr Thio Shen Yi SC, Joint Managing Partner at TSMP Law Corporation said.
c. “This was a reminder once again – Singapore has already become the world’s leading hub in dispute resolution. Not just for arbitration, not just for mediation, it is really the entire infrastructure with SICC, SIMC, SIAC, and I will not be surprised to see Singapore become the leading hub as the favourite place in the next Queen Mary study on international arbitration,” Dr Harald Sippel, Head of European and Northeast Asian Desk at Skrine said.
The SC Week continues to provide a critical platform for thought leaders in dispute resolution and international policymakers to share insights, learnings, and best practices in an evolving global landscape. The key highlights of SC Week 2023 are available at www.singaporeconventionweek.sg.