Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC, at the Second Reading of the Legal Profession (Amendment) Bill (Bill No. 40/2021)
This Bill will take a landmark step in providing for conditional fee agreements (CFAs) between lawyers and clients in certain cases.
This will help level the playing field for Singapore lawyers in international dispute resolution and also increase access to justice.
I have three points of clarification.
Categories of dispute
My first point is about the coverage of this Bill’s CFA framework.
The Bill will establish a single framework for CFAs. For a start, it appears that CFAs will be permitted for international and domestic arbitration proceedings, proceedings before the Singapore International Commercial Court, and related Court and mediation proceedings. These are likely to be transnational, high-value commercial disputes.
The Ministry has indicated that it will continue to study whether CFAs can promote access to justice in other categories of proceedings, including domestic proceedings.
But the considerations for cases on the other end of the spectrum – domestic cases involving indigent litigants, will be different. In cases involving indigent litigants. In cases involving indigent litigants, there may be a greater need to be more protective of the interests of the litigant as compared to those of parties in high-value commercial disputes who will likely be well-advised.
In establishing the overarching framework under the Bill, can Minister share what steps the Ministry has taken to ensure that the framework is sufficiently flexible to extend to all categories of disputes?
The lessons learnt from initial application of the CFA framework to high-value commercial disputes may have limited application to cases involving indigent litigants.
How will the Ministry study the suitability of CFAs for enhancing access to justice for indigent litigants?
My second point is about plans for allowing CFAs to act in international mediation proceedings.
Singapore has taken steps to position itself as a global mediation hub. The passing of the Mediation Act in 2017 provided a framework for international mediation in Singapore.
The Ministry has indicated that CFAs will be allowed as a start to international and domestic arbitration, certain proceedings in the SICC, and related Court and mediation proceedings.
Can Minister clarify whether CFAs will be allowed to act in international mediation proceedings that do not arise from permitted categories of arbitration or litigation?
Changing classifications of cases
My third point is about the classification of cases that are transmitted to other forums.
It is not unusual for cases to be transmitted for hearing before different forums. For instance, the current Rules of Court contemplate the transfer of proceedings from the General Division of the High Court to the SICC, and vice versa.
Given that CFAs will only apply to certain categories of cases for a start, can Minister clarify how the CFA framework will take into account cases that are commenced in one forum then transmitted to another forum?
Is there a possibility under the proposed CFA framework that a case may be commenced in a forum where CFAs are permitted then transmitted to another where CFAs are not permitted?
Sir, notwithstanding my clarifications, I stand in support of the Bill.
Watch the speech here.