Beihai Asia International Arbitration Centre in Singapore (BAIAC) and Eversheds Harry Elias respond to COVID-19 with International Arbitration Protocol
Singapore, 1 May 2020
In response to the current COVID-19 global pandemic, the Beihai Asia International Arbitration Centre (BAIAC) and Eversheds Harry Elias today introduced the COVID-19 International Arbitration Protocol (“the Protocol”).
The outbreak of COVID-19 has caused an unprecedented scale of global business interruptions and will likely to lead to commercial disputes for many individuals and businesses. Considering the varying circumstances of parties, the pressing resolution of their disputes may be essential. Believed to the first of its kind, the Protocol provides a viable option enabling parties to access private arbitration as a flexible and expedient alternative to court litigation, especially where access to the latter is not readily unavailable.
In essence, the Protocol provides for submission to international arbitration under the Singapore International Arbitration Act (Cap. 143A) with BAIAC acting as appointer of arbitrator. The Protocol shall operate for six (6) months from 1 May 2020 to 31 October 2020 and may be extended.
BAIAC’s President Professor Steve Ngo said “I reiterate the need to make arbitration, makes sense again. Following the unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, we hear the views from those in the international business community as regards the deluge of disputes that may come. When approached by Mr Shaun Leong, Partner of Eversheds Harry Elias to collaborate in introducing the Protocol, I immediately appreciate the need to respond to this by doing our small part. In fact, the former United Kingdom’s Supreme Court president, Lord Neuberger recently also warned about potential overwhelming number of commercial cases due to the pandemic.[i]”
He further added that “I particularly appreciate Mr Leong’s foresight, who has had an exemplary record in the judiciary including his involvement in the formation of the Singapore International Commercial Court prior to private practice, where today he is widely recognised as a leading dispute resolution practitioner.”
Mr Shaun Leong, Partner at Eversheds Harry Elias said:
“With a poor global economic outlook caused by the pandemic, it is inevitable that the incidence of international commercial disputes would increase. At the same time, national courts all over the world have shut down temporarily or significantly reduced their operations, in a bid to control the outbreak. Some countries have imposed moratorium against commencing court actions in a bid to help businesses tide over these challenging times (which make perfect sense for many businesses). Moving forward, it is evident that national courts in different parts of the world would be re-opening gradually, only to face a significant logjam of cases accumulated months prior.
For many businesses, not being able to resolve their disputes expediently is actually detrimental to their businesses, and impedes their ability to pull through this economic crisis. When faced with a dispute, businesses invariably are predominantly concerned with the worst (or best) outcomes. Where there is a dispute, there are businesses that would rather deal with it now, than to have to wait for a prolonged period of time. Likewise, if there is a loss that the business is going to suffer, many businesses would rather know it now. In such cases, dealing with a dispute earlier than later puts them in a position to effectively plan for their business and finances, and to strategize ahead with certainty.
The purpose of this protocol would be to allow parties an alternative forum to consensually resolve their disputes in a private and expedient manner. International arbitration, by the very nature of its flexible processes, is more adapt at resolving disputes remotely and via the use of technology. Hopefully, this would also assist to alleviate the burden of the case load on national courts all over the world.”
For the full text of the Protocol, go to https://baiac.org/rules/covid-19-protocol/
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[i] Michael Cross, “Judicial heavyweights call for ‘breathing space’ to save dispute resolution system”, The Law Society Gazette, April 27, 2020, https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/law/judicial-heavyweights-call-for-breathing-space-to-save-dispute-resolution-system/5104038.article