You reached Chartered Arbitrator status in 2014. Were you always interested in carving out a career in international arbitration? Tell us about your route to membership.
I started research into arbitration when I was a law lecturer at the National University of Singapore in 1990 and then went on to teach it as part of the International Business Transactions course.
When I went into practice in Singapore, I did a lot of maritime disputes and although many of them involved litigation, some disputes were arbitrated. From maritime disputes, I branched out into commercial disputes and with some persistence, luck and support from leading arbitrators I was eventually accepted by the arbitral community.
Although it took several years of investment before I started receiving appointments, I didn’t mind because I found arbitration fascinating as a field of study in itself.
As an arbitrator, what do you like to see from counsel? What should be avoided?
I had been counsel for more than a decade before I first sat as an arbitrator. That gave me a fresh perspective on the role of a counsel.
A good counsel will assist the tribunal on the actual issues that the tribunal has to decide upon. An effective counsel will demonstrate how the evidence before the tribunal, with references to relevant law, leads to a certain conclusion on those issues.
What I do not find helpful are unsubstantiated assertions or arguments that do not help to guide the tribunal to any outcome. In particular, submissions based on inaccurate references to evidence or law should be avoided at all costs.
What are your thoughts on the controversy surrounding negotiations on the world's largest FTA: The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA)?
It is a pluralistic world, so there will definitely be differences of opinion. The protests against the TPPA are in a way part of the larger trend of scepticism towards a perceived loss of economic autonomy.
Protests against the G20 Summits, the World Bank and IMF policies have been going on for years. Now you have Brexit on the table.
Many government leaders reasonably believe that free trade and economic integration will bring economic growth. The problem is that there is a trust deficit in the modern world.
Governments and organisations that were once hallowed establishments dispensing policies to the masses no longer hold sway in the court of public opinion.
Not everyone believes in the benefits of globalisation and few people are able to extrapolate what the negotiated terms of a very lengthy trade agreement will mean for them in their daily lives.
I believe that in many of the TPPA countries, people will eventually accept that being an economic island is not an option in a global society. In other countries, the discontent over the TPPA might be just a manifestation of bigger national issues.
What do you think are the most pressing issues in the international arbitration arena?
Growing disenchantment among users over the double hazard of an unpredictable tribunal and predictably hefty costs.
The arbitrators in any given tribunal can come from an undefined pool of candidates.
Unless appointed by an institution, an arbitrator could be anyone that a party desires to appoint. This means that a tribunal does not always comprise of three wise men or women entrusted to deal with the dispute impartially and competently.
Costs? Well, enough has been said on the subject.
What changes would you like to see happen?
Arbitration started out as an informal process where the substance mattered more than the form. It was not meant to be rocket science.
In the international arbitration arena, it has become quantum physics if not rocket science. With big amounts at stake, parties rely on leading legal brains who scrutinise both procedure and substance to improve the odds for their clients.
Arbitration has become sophisticated. There is a need for fairness and jurisdictional limits, but there is no need for the judicialisation of arbitration.
What do you enjoy most about being an international arbitrator?
International arbitration is probably the area of practice where you get the best perspective of different legal systems.
Lawyers of different legal traditions bring their own assumptions and habits to the table. You quickly learn too that your own view of the world is but one view.
The greatest satisfaction comes from completing an arbitration where lawyers and disputants of very different backgrounds nonetheless feel that the process has been fair and proper.