The Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration (SCMA) has released the fourth edition of the SCMA Arbitration Rules (the Rules) which, unless otherwise agreed by parties, will apply to arbitrations commenced on or after 1 January 2022.
The Rules are the product of more than a year of consultations and deliberation by the SCMA Procedure Committee, which was tasked with considering updates to the former edition of the Rules.
In addition to structural changes and a change in language to make the new Rules gender neutral, the new Rules are intended to maintain the SCMA’s position as a fair, timely and cost-effective forum for resolution of shipping and maritime disputes. Key changes in the new Rules are aimed at modernising the arbitral process, increasing timeliness, and cost and procedural efficiency.
Modernising the arbitral process
The new Rules expressly allow remote arbitration proceedings which, though necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, continue to be popular even as the pandemic restrictions look to ease. The provisions for remote proceedings are likely to reduce time spent by parties to an arbitration in negotiating and agreeing the possibility of electronic communications and remote hearings. For example:
- Methods of service: The new Rules permit service of notices or communications by email and the need for physical delivery of notices or communication has been removed, although this still remains an option if still desired (Rule 3.1).
- Deemed notice: Following the flexibility of service other than in physical form, the new Rules also improve the ‘deemed notice’ provisions and the calculation of time periods for service (Rules 3.2 – 3.4).
- Remote hearings and case management conferences: Remote case management conferences and hearings (e.g. by telephone or video conference) are now explicitly allowed (Rules 17.3 and 25.3).
- Electronic signatures: Tribunals no longer need to meet in person to sign any award or effect corrections and they may sign awards electronically, unless any party requires otherwise (Rule 34.4).
In order to streamline the arbitration process and promote efficiency, the new Rules prescribe that proceedings are to be deemed closed following final closing submissions, and establish a deadline by which the tribunal must make its final award:
- Deemed close of proceedings: Arbitration proceedings will be deemed closed after the lapse of three months from the date of any final written submissions of final hearing (Rule 27.1).
- Deadline for awards: Tribunals must now make the final award within three months from the close of proceedings (Rule 34.1). We note however, that the tribunal remains entitled to refuse delivery or release of the award until all outstanding fees have been paid or if fees are unsecured (Rule 34.5).