You would not know it from the Straits Times' story headlined "Law Ministry rejects Canadian firm's charges of 'biased judiciary' " (10 May 2006), but a good part of Singapore's economic future is riding on the dry legal arguments in a case being heard in Toronto, Canada.
That would be some case, wouldn't it?
What's even more interesting is that it is actually a private commercial dispute between 2 companies -- one Singaporean and the other Canadian -- yet the case has now expanded to the broader question of whether the Singapore judiciary is of first world standard.
The Singapore firm, Oakwell Engineering Ltd, won its case against the Canadian, Enernorth Industries Inc in previous rounds in Singapore. However, to enforce its claim of the court award, Oakwell had to go to the Canadian courts, since Enernorth's assets are primarily in that country.
In the first Canadian hearing, the Ontario Superior Court, under Justice Gerald Day, ruled that Oakwell could seize the assets of Enernorth, pursuant to a judgment by the Singapore Court of Appeal.
However, this has now been appealed to the Court of Appeal for Ontario, Enernorth's argument being that the Canadian judiciary cannot enforce an order coming from a state that does not have Canadian standards of justice. The Court of Appeal thus has to decide whether Singapore's judiciary meets Canadian standards of impartiality.
If it rules in favour of Enernorth, then an earth-shaking precedent will be set. The ruling can be cited by other courts in the United States, UK, Australia, etc, to refuse to recognise and enforce judgments made by Singapore courts. Should that happen, our dream of marketing legal services, including arbitration and trial, as one more plank of the new "knowledge and services economy", will be impaired. Why would foreign companies rely on Singapore lawyers and our judicial processes when the results are not recognised elsewhere?
Moreover, an adverse ruling would also cast doubt on all other commercial judgments rendered in Singapore, which may impact on other companies' perception of how safe their investments are from political bias.
Why did the Straits Times break the story only now?
12 May 2006
A brief extract from Yawning Bread concerning the case being held in Canada and the 'independence' of the Singaporean judiciary which has been circulating since January 15, 2006.