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BUDGET 2017

Ministry of Law to grow new legal practice areas

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The Red Dot Traffic Building (right) will be taken over by the Ministry of Law for the expansion of Maxwell Chambers (left). The expanded facility is expected to attract more international institutions, arbitration chambers and law firms here.

Singapore

PLANS are underway to develop and grow new practice areas beyond that of dispute resolution and debt restructuring, even as Singapore's legal sector faces headwinds.

More information on the new areas will be unveiled when the Committee on the Future Economy Working Group on Legal and Accounting Services releases its report in April, said Minister for Law K Shanmugam.

Speaking during the Committee of Supply debate for his ministry in Parliament on Friday, he outlined the initiatives that have been rolled out in the last few years to grow Singapore's position as a legal hub.

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Even as new practice areas are explored, the government will continue to work on intellectual property (IP) as a growth area, he said.

"It's important that the IP regime allows businesses to commercialise IP in a cost-effective way. So we are considering ways to improve our IP dispute-resolution mechanism, and we are considering the recommendations made by the IP Dispute Resolution Committee."

To fortify the Republic's status as a dispute-resolution hub, the government has, in the past year, ratified the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements to enhance the enforceability of Singapore Court judgments. It has also enacted a new Mediation Act to strengthen mediated settlements, and introduced a third-party funding framework to give businesses additional financing options for international commercial arbitration.

Plans have also been drawn up to expand the capacity of Maxwell Chambers, which would attract more international institutions, arbitration chambers and law firms to Singapore, the minister said.

He added that the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) is also working with public- and private-sector parties to promote Singapore's debt restructuring regime, among other things.

In his speech, Mr Shanmugam also touched on the promotion of Singapore law, in light of the increasing use of Singapore law in cross-border transactions in the region.

In fact, Singapore law is one of the default options in some Baltic and International Maritime Council standard forms.

"Growth in this trend must come from businesses, led by parties and industries. They will benefit from the emergence of a default Asian law," said the minister.

To this end, MinLaw has financially supported the development of the Centre for Asian Legal Studies, the Centre for Banking and Finance Law and the Centre for Law and Business - institutions which he said would add to Singapore's reputation as a thought leader in law and anchor regional legal expertise here.

On Friday, Member of Parliament (MP) Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) asked how the ministry would help Singapore's small and medium-sized law practices develop their businesses.

Citing the examples of IE Singapore's global company partnership and double tax deduction schemes, Mr Shanmugam replied that there are a number of programmes to help these practices take wing in the region; he added that MinLaw would continue to work with relevant economic agencies to support these firms.

The government will also support Singapore law practices in the area of technology, he said; he noted that the "Tech Start for Law" initiative was launched this week to help firms with up to 70 per cent of the cost of adopting basic technology products, including practice management and online legal research.

Other ideas being explored include online dispute resolution and having regulations that facilitate innovation and development of legal-technology solutions.

Separately, Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah stressed the importance of future-proofing legal professionals by deepening their skillsets and industry expertise, so as to ensure that the legal industry here is competitive internationally.

Already, the UniSIM School of Law has been set up to address the projected shortage of family and criminal practitioners here, she said, of the school which took in its first batch of 60 students in January.

The government has also taken steps to ensure lawyers here possess cross-disciplinary skills through a more practice-oriented, multi-disciplinary law curriculum, she noted.

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