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Right To Be Heard In International Arbitration

In a recent decision of CGS v CGT [2020] SGHC 183 the Singapore High Court refused to set aside a Singapore International Arbitration Centre (“SIAC”) award where the applicant claimed that there had been a breach of natural justice and that its rights have been prejudiced as the Tribunal had excluded its General Manager (“GM”) from acting as co-counsel with the reasons that he was omitted from certain email communications, “interrupted” during Opening Statement when the Tribunal requested a better explanation of an aspect of the claim, and was prevented from asking a question of a factual witness by the Tribunal.  

After reviewing the transcripts of the hearing, the Court held that the alleged interruption was in fact “entirely innocuous” and the GM had only been granted permission to assist in the Opening Statement, not with interrogation of witnesses.  

It was further held that  the first Procedural Order (“PO1”) which stated, “where a Party was represented by Counsel, communications with the Tribunal shall be with Counsel instead of the Party’s representatives”,  did not infringe the parties’ right to representation; the Tribunal could reasonably direct that there be only one line of communication between each party and the Tribunal. Moreover, its legal counsel had also acknowledged the Tribunal’s request to follow the PO1 by email. Therefore, there was no reason for the Tribunal to think that the PO1 was objectionable. Additionally, the applicant should have raised its objection or applied to vary PO1 immediately, instead of raising the issue in a set-aside action.  

This case serves as an important reminder that the Singapore courts will be likely to adopt the ‘light touch’ approach when reviewing arbitral awards and underscores the importance to raise an objection on procedural unfairness in a timely manner with the Tribunal. Failing which, the party cannot expect the courts to set aside the award based on the objections which ought to have been raised earlier.

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