The idea behind the newly-created Singapore International Commercial Court is to expand the legal services sector and to make Singapore a centre for international dispute resolution.
Sir Vivian Ramsey, well-known to anyone concerned with recent developments in civil procedural law in England and Wales, has already has already been appointed one of the international judges along with Sir Bernard Rix and Simon Thorley QC (see article here from the Law Society Gazette about judicial recruits to the SICC). Now Sir Bernard Eder has joined them, having retired surprisingly early from the England and Wales bench (article about this in the Straits Times today) .
Singapore’s ambitions in this direction have been signalled for many years – I once sat at dinner next to Singapore Appeal Court judge who urged me to spread the word that Singapore was a place with “English law uncorrupted by EU law”. He also emphasised Singapore’s ambitions in legal education. The Singapore International Commercial Court is not the only initiative running in Singapore to capture disputes resolution work; it also has the Singapore International Mediation Centre and the Singapore International Arbitration Centre.
There are plenty of reasons why Sir Bernard Eder would find this an interesting position to take up, and there is no reason necessarily to connect his early retirement with the widely-reported dissatisfaction felt by all levels of the UK judiciary. This dissatisfaction is, however, both well-known and grounded in a survey conducted by the Ministry of Justice. It implies that we are going to have a very serious problem in filling judicial posts, something for which the MoJ is directly to blame. The MoJ itself expresses concern at the rise of jurisdictions which challenge London’s former pre-eminence as a centre for commercial litigation and other disputes. They could trace much of it to their own incompetence.
The most useful anecdotal evidence we have of the rise of Singapore in disputes matters is the number of English barristers setting up there – law firms may go for all sorts of reasons, but barristers go only for disputes. It is not surprising that English judges would rather be part of the up-and-coming jurisdictions (Dubai is another which has attracted English talent) rather than one which is apparently being deliberately driven into the ground by uncomprehending government and stupidly useless civil servants.