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Enforcement of foreign judgments and arbitration awards in Singapore

As one of the world's leading offshore wealth hubs, Singapore is often involved in the enforcement of foreign court judgments and arbitration awards. Fortunately for those seeking enforcement, this is relatively straightforward under the country's laws. 

Arbitral awards

Singapore is party to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. This allows the enforcement of arbitral awards from the 155 other signatories to the convention, with a few exceptions, under Singapore's International Arbitration Act. These exceptions include situations where there are issues with the validity of the underlying arbitration agreement, or where the award is considered to be in breach of natural justice or in conflict with public policy.

Although less common, it is also possible to enforce arbitration awards from other countries outside the New York Convention in Singapore, under the provisions of the country's Arbitration Act, or through a common law action.

Court judgments

There are currently two paths to enforcing foreign court judgments in Singapore: under one of the country's reciprocal enforcement Acts or through a common law action.

Foreign judgments can be registered in Singapore under either the Reciprocal Enforcement of Commonwealth Judgments Act (RECJA) or the Reciprocal Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (REFJA). These Acts allow the enforcement of judgments from certain specified courts in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Pakistan, Brunei, Papua New Guinea, India, Australia, Hong Kong and the Windward Islands.

A foreign judgment must meet certain criteria for registration under either of these Acts, including that it must be final and conclusive, and must be for the payment of money.

Enforcement can be contested if the foreign court acted without jurisdiction, where there is a pending appeal, or where the judgment can be shown to have been obtained by fraud.

A common law action can be used if the judgment was given by a foreign court with international jurisdiction. The judgment must be final and conclusive, and must be for a definite sum of money. Enforcement can by denied if there was a breach of natural justice, if the judgment was fraudulently procured, or if the enforcement would be contrary to Singapore public policy. 

A third path will soon be available, as Singapore has signed the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements. This came into force on 1 October 2015, and will take effect in Singapore once the government ratifies it and passes the necessary enabling legislation.

This will allow enforcement of judgments from other convention countries, currently made up of the member states of the European Union and Mexico. The US has also signed the convention, but has not yet ratified it. Singapore does not currently have any reciprocal enforcement Acts covering EU countries, Mexico or the US, so this will make it easier to enforce judgments from those countries, and from others who sign the convention in future.

Choosing a path

The best path to take will be dictated by the type of judgment and the court from which it comes. if the judgment falls under either the REFJA or RECJA, it can be registered easily. If the judgment falls outside these Acts, common law action will ne necessary. This is a longer and most costly route.

Once the convention is ratified, and legislation passed, judgments from EU countries and Mexico should be more easily enforceable - but we will have to wait for the enabling statute to be passed in Singapore to see the precise mechanics

International judgments made in Singapore

In a related development, the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), was launched in January 2015 as a division of the Singapore High Court, to hear international cases. This was part of an effort to enhance Singapore's standing as a venue for dispute resolution in Asia and beyond, in the context of an expected increase in the number and complexity of cross-border disputes due to the continued growth in trade and investment in Asia.

The judgments of the SICC carry the same weight domestically and internationally as other judgments of the Singapore High Court. However, as the main aim of the SICC is to attract international cases, there is a need to improve the enforceability of its judgments outside Singapore.

Naturally, any further steps taken in this regard may involve some degree of reciprocity, and this would mean enhanced enforceability of foreign judgments in Singapore.