Legal services an economic opportunity in its own right: PM Lee

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the country needs to recognise legal services as an economic opportunity in its own right, and not just an enabler for other industries.

One which serves the entire region and the world, and not just Singapore.

A key strength, is the country’s rule of law, which Mr Lee said makes it well—positioned to be an arbitration hub.

He was speaking at the Congress of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration.

The gathering of legal practitioners from around the world in Singapore is testament to the nation’s rising status as an international arbitration hub, only third together with Paris and Tokyo after London and Geneva.

In fact, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre has been ranked the fourth most popular arbitration institution in the world.

With a rising number of companies in Asia operating across different legal systems, arbitration becomes the default mode of resolving commercial cross—border disputes.

And Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore is well placed to help in this area.

"Companies want a neutral venue, not necessarily a host country or where the law is based which they’re arbitrating on. We’re well—positioned because of our judicial philosophy, because Singapore courts support the arbitration process and the finality of arbitration awards, so matters can be settled in months or a year or two, not decades.

"We are in good position because of our openness, you can choose any arbitrator, you can use any governing law, and foreign arbitrators don’t need to obtain work permits or pay withholding tax," he said.

Singapore has actively pursued this goal updating its laws and investing in infrastructure.

Since the late 1990s, the government has been aggressively promoting Singapore’s legal services industry.

Today, foreign law firms are free to undertake areas of Singapore commercial law and Mr Lee acknowledges that this means stiffer competition.

"Indeed, there will be pressure on local firms, especially the large ones. But taking in a broad view of Singapore legal system opening up offers enormous benefits than costs.

"We’ve now become a hub for commercial legal services that support investment and trade in Asia. Offshore firms bring international work to Singapore. And our young lawyers have more opportunities to build their careers," he explained.

Mr Lee said this means young lawyers in Singapore too have more opportunities to build their careers at home.

Some 1,000 legal practitioners from around the world will attend the four—day congress, from 10 to 13 June, which is held every two years.

— CNA/ck