Opening Address by Senior Minister of State for Law, Indranee Rajah, SC, at the SIAC Congress 2016: Gala Dinner
27 May 2016 Posted in Speeches
- Arbitration – A time honoured means of dispute resolution
Arbitration has been around from the most ancient of times.
- The Judgment of Paris
One instance of arbitration in Greek mythology is in the Judgment of Paris. The story began at the Wedding of Peleus and Thetis.
All the gods were invited except Eris, the goddess of Discord.
Angered at being turned away from the festivities, Eris tossed a golden apple among the goddesses assembled at the festivities, addressed “To the Fairest”.
A huge dispute arose when three goddesses laid claim to the apple and the title:
- Hera (Wife of Zeus – the Goddess of Marriage and Family), and
- Athena (Daughter of Zeus – the Goddess of Wisdom and War)
- Aphrodite (the Goddess of Love)
Zeus was asked to arbitrate the issue, but – because Hera was his wife (conflict of interest!) – he declined and re-directed it to Paris, the son of King Priam of Troy, to decide the issue.
Paris – not being nearly as wise as Zeus, embarked on arbitrating the matter.
This arbitration was said to be depicted on the fabled cedar chest of Cypselus, embellished in ivory and gold and exhibited at Olympia in the temple of Hera.
The scene on the chest is described by the writer Pausanias of Sparta in his travellogue “A Description of Greece” c. 2AD as follows:
Pausanias, Description of Greece 15.9.5
“Hermes bringing to Paris, the Son of Priam, the goddesses of whose beauty he is to judge , the inscription on them being: Here is Hermes, who is showing to [Paris] that he may arbitrateconcerning their beauty , Hera, Athena and Aphrodite.”
Paris inspected the three goddesses but was unable to make up his mind. The goddesses then promptly attempted to bribe him.
- Hera - offered to make him king of Europe and Asia
- Athena - offered him wisdom and skill in war
- Aphrodite - offered him the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Sparta, the wife of King Menelaus
Paris accepted Aphrodite’s gift of Helen, ruled in Aphrodite’s favour, and awarded her the apple - thus sparkling off the Trojan War.
Now, there are of course all sorts of wrong with this arbitration!
- Paris was clearly not an exemplary arbitrator. There would have been clear grounds to set aside the judgment on the basis of corruption under Section 24(a) of the International Arbitration Act!
- Moreover, was it even an arbitrable issue?
- Surely it must have been against public policy to run off with someone else’s wife!
- The Judgment of Solomon
A much better example in terms of outcome is the Judgment of Solomon, who goes back even further in time.
Many will be familiar with this story.
Solomon the King of Israel, was asked to rule between two women who both claimed to be the mother of the same infant.
The two women lived in the same house.
One claimed that the other had accidentally suffocated her son while she was asleep, and had then exchanged the two boys to make it appear that the living son was hers.
The other woman denied this, claiming that the living boy was hers and that the dead boy belonged to the first woman.
No DNA testing at that time.
Solomon had to use other means to get at the truth.
He called for a sword and commanded that the living boy be cut in two, half to be given to one woman and half to the other.
One of the women immediately agreed, saying “Let the child be neither hers nor mine but divide it.” The other woman on the other hand immediately said she would cede the child to the other woman, choosing to give him away rather than to see him killed.
Solomon adjudged the latter as the mother on the basis that the true mother would not wish to see her child slain.
Procedurally unorthodox. Can’t quite see this methodology working today! – but he got at the truth and there was a just disposition of the dispute.
The point of these stories, however, is that arbitration as a means of dispute resolution has been around from the earliest times.
So long as there is human interaction, there will be disputes and the need for resolution.
- Latter Day Heirs of Arbitration
Arbitration as we know it today has its origins in Medieval England and Europe. It was a preferred mode for settling local disputes within English trade guilds who preferred the “Law of Merchants” to the common law.
Guild halls like these were the early precursors of today’s arbitration centre.
Arbitration brought efficiency, certainty, and resolution to mercantile and commercial cases.
This evolved over time to resolution of international commercial disputes involving in cross-border commercial transactions.
Where you find trade and commerce, you will find arbitration.
- Modern Day: Eurasia and Asia-Pacific Region
Current global economic climate is challenging.
But where there are economic difficulties, disputes tend to increase.
Good, efficient arbitration will be necessary and invaluable.
Asia is at the centre of growing international trade connections.
Notwithstanding the current economic slowdown, medium-term potential for growth in this part of the world, with real GDP growth in the region is projected to average 6.2% per year over 2016 – 2020.
In the longer term, this will only continue to grow.
Boosted by the various bilateral and multilateral trade connections between countries in the Eurasia and Asia-Pacific Region.
The ASEAN economies, China, India, Korea and Japan all have growing trade and links with each other.
Singapore recently signed a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Australia. A key outcome of the CSP was the decision to update and modernise the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA). As part of the Third Review of the SAFTA, both countries will adopt a package of measures to increase trade and investment flows.
China’s One Belt, One Road initiative will drive further trade activity between China, Europe and Asia.
The recent ASEAN-Russia Commemorative Summit promises a deeper strategic partnership between ASEAN and Russia going forward; and
Singapore has recently signed an MOU with the Eurasian Economic Commission, comprising Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and Russia.
The region has huge potential for trade activity.
Singapore is at the heart of this trade activity.
SIAC is at the heart of the arbitration potential that we can see in the Eurasia, Asia-Pacific region.
SIAC and its stakeholders are right in the midst of this.
You play a critical role in the fruition of this vision.
Factors that will help SIAC stay competitive :
- quality arbitration services;
- the costs;
- the enforceability of its awards.
Another key factor – innovation: e.g. products and services such as :
- the Arb-Med-Arb procedure; and
- the Emergency Arbitrator and Expedited Procedure provisions.
- Readiness to adopt and respond to new technologies
We live in a world where technology is likely to disrupt the status quo as we know it.
Computer algorithms are increasingly able to automate the work that lawyers do. Last week, one law firm announced that it has developed a computer program that can sift through fourteen UK and European regulatory registers to check client names for banks, processing thousands of names overnight. We used to get pupils to do this, but they cost rather more now!
A few weeks ago, the first artificial intelligence-based attorney was employed by a law firm for the first time.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. With the advent of block-chain technology, contracts that currently govern transactions could soon be verified by computers rather than human authorities. Property ownership and copyright could be established and recorded via the block-chain rather than hard-copy documentation. This has the potential to challenge the roles and functions of lawyers as we know them today.
SIAC and arbitration parties must keep abreast of these changes and be ready to reap the opportunities that technology provides.
Developing the arbitration landscape is the work of many parties.
For SIAC as an institution – should work on the factors highlighted earlier;
As a government we will continue to provide support, infrastructure, and a progressive legal framework;
Lawyers, counsel and arbitrators must continue to uphold the standards and quality of arbitration services.
Last year, we celebrated SG50.
This year, we have embarked on the groundwork for the next 50 years, moving towards SG100.
Legal services and arbitration in particular play a very important part in our plans for this future economy.
Our vision is to be a dispute resolution hub for the Pacific century.
There is a solid future for arbitration in Asia, and the SIAC is right at the heart of this.
It is therefore fitting that we are celebrating SIAC’s 25thAnniversary. We look forward to forging a dynamic future in partnership with all of you present today.
Thank you, and have an enjoyable evening ahead.
Last updated on 30 May 2016