Justifying Singapore as an appropriate forum for international business disputes: Rappo v. Accent Delight International Ltd [2017] SGCA 27

Singapore’s aim is to become a regional and global hub for cross-border disputes. Nevertheless, the establishment of the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) does not represent a shortcut for parties, who must continue to justify Singapore as an appropriate forum for the resolution of their international business disputes.

In its recent decision in Rappo v. Accent Delight International Ltd and another [2017] SGCA 27, the Singapore Court of Appeal considered the distinction and relationship between the doctrines of forum election and forum non conveniens

The Court of Appeal confirmed that, in deciding whether Singapore is forum non conveniens, the applicable test continues to be that laid out by the English House of Lords in Spiliada Maritime Corporation v Cansulex Ltd [1987] AC 460. This "Spiliada Test" requires the court to consider whether there is some other available forum in which it is more appropriate for the case to be tried, and involves an analysis of all factors that connect the dispute with the various competing jurisdictions.

The Court of Appeal emphasised that the quality of the connecting factors, rather than quantity, would be crucial in the analysis. The court will search for those connections that have the most relevant and substantial associations with the dispute. If the connections point to an alternative forum, the court will ordinarily grant a stay unless justice requires that a stay should nonetheless not be granted.

Importantly, the Court of Appeal considered whether the potential availability of the SICC represents a relevant consideration in determining whether Singapore is an appropriate forum. The Court accepted that the judge had not taken the possibility of a transfer to the SICC into account in determining whether Singapore was forum non conveniens, although she would have been entitled to do so as a matter of principle.

Here, it would be “wrong in principle” for the court to shut its eyes to a plainly relevant consideration such as the capabilities of the SICC (for example, the familiarity with the application of particular foreign law).