On October 27, 2016, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) held its annual China Roadshow in Shanghai. SIAC is a premier global arbitration forum and institution that caters particularly to Chinese, Indian, and other ASEAN legal users. The initial panel included arbitration luminaries such as Chan Hock Seng, Steven Lim, John Zou, SIAC’s Deputy Registrar Kevin Nash, and AnJie Law Firm Partner and specialist on arbitration enforcement Arthur Dong.
SIAC’s China Head, Sophia Feng, convened the distinguished panel to discuss SIAC’s innovations in its 2016 Rules, particularly its bold Early Dismissal provision. Rule 29 permits the Tribunal to dismiss claims or defenses which are “manifestly” either “without legal merit” or “outside the jurisdiction of the Tribunal.” Drawn from ICSID, SIAC is nonetheless the first arbitration institution to enact an Early (or Summary) Dismissal provision in its commercial arbitration institutional rules.
The other panelists eagerly requested Arthur’s professional outlook on whether Chinese courts would be willing to recognize an Award anchored in a resolution by Early Dismissal. In short, Arthur is optimistic. Arthur noted that China is a signatory to the New York Convention. As such, China takes its obligations to enforce foreign Awards very seriously. Arthur reminded that China has a strong track record on enforcement. Furthermore, China will avoid delving into the substantive merits underlying any arbitration Award. Chinese courts respect that the Tribunal’s Award is the last word on the application of the facts to the law in any arbitration. Therefore, Chinese courts will respect Awards where the Early Dismissal provision had a major impact.
The distinguished panelists considered enforcement issues globally. Although summary judgment features prominently in common law jurisdictions, particularly in the United States, civil law countries rarely exhibit any examples of such an early dismissal device. The panelists considered the danger of Early Dismissal in light of the New York Convention’s requirement that parties be afforded a “fair opportunity to present their cases.” Reassurance came, at least to an extent, by attention to the limiting language of Early Dismissal: the remedy of dismissal could only apply to matters of pure law or jurisdiction, and the standard required “manifest” burden. Any admixture of fact and law would require treatment of the issue under a full hearing. There was some concern about the vagueness of what might prove ‘manifest.’
In any case, SIAC Deputy Registrar Kevin Nash anticipates that few resolutions of the Early Dismissal procedure would entirely dispose of any matter, except perhaps when jurisdiction or legal grounds were facially and clearly wrong. This expectation appears sound. Early Dismissal was designed to narrow the issues before the hearing. As such, it would prove an absolute bar to only the most frivolous or mistaken claims.
In addition to Early Dismissal, the panel discussed the Emergency Arbitrator provision. Arthur Dong pointed out that these will be useful to China-based users. Normally, interim measures are unavailable in China, unless the host institution is also based in China. Therefore, the breadth and scope of SIAC’s Emergency Arbitrator provisions may allow China-based users to accomplish what they otherwise might not through interim measures.
Overall, Arthur Dong remains optimistic that Chinese courts will respect and enforce SIAC Awards, even when they rely on innovations under SIAC’s 2016 Rules.