Mr.Sriram Chakravarthi – Senior Director Singapore Academy of Law

lawzmagazine.comThe Singapore Academy of Law is the promotion and development agency for Singapore’s legal industry, with the vision of making Singapore the legal hub of Asia. The Academy aims to drive legal excellence through developing thought leadership, world class infrastructure and legal solutions. Its work focuses on building up the intellectual capital of the legal profession by enhancing legal knowledge, raising the international profile of Singapore law, promoting Singapore as a centre for dispute resolution and improving the standards and efficiency of legal practice through continuing professional development and the use of technology. As a body established by Statute, the Academy also undertakes statutory functions such as stakeholding services, appointment of Senior Counsel, Commissioners for Oaths and Notaries Public.

The Academy is led by a Senate headed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, and comprising the Attorney-General, the Supreme Court Bench and key leaders of the various branches of the legal profession. It has more than 10,000 members, including the Bench, all persons who are called as advocates and solicitors of the Supreme Court (i.e. the Bar), or who are appointed as Legal Service Officers, corporate counsel, faculty members of the two local law schools (i.e. the National University of Singapore and the Singapore Management University) and foreign lawyers in Singapore.

On the 21st and 22nd of January 2016, Singapore Academy of Law organised the first Legal convergence conference in Singapore. The institute’s senior Director Mr.Sriram Chakravarthi was in New Delhi in the second week of January of this year and met the Lawz team over an exclusive interview, on the said conference and on the formation of the Asian Business Law institute.

1.What is legal convergence? How does it help business in Asia?

The existence of disparate levels of development within Asia coupled with the lack of harmonization of regulatory and legal regimes complicates the process of doing business within Asia. The law can be utilized as an enabling mechanism to promote the efficient flow of Asian trade. To this end, legal convergence especially relating to the commercial law framework would ensure that the business laws and regulations are standardized and consistently applied throughout the Asian economy. This would give rise to greater certainty, fewer regulatory hurdles and effective enforcement processes, all of which would facilitate greater trade and investment flows.

2.What are some of the legal challenges facing companies that want to do cross-border business?

There exists considerable diversity among Asian legal systems. There are countries whose legal systems are civil-law based (influenced by Roman-Dutch, German or French traditions) and those that are based on the common law (influenced by English traditions). Asian business laws vary considerably, with some countries having modern business laws compatible with commercial practices of the 21st century, and others still relying on colonial-era legislation. Such diversity can pose much uncertainty to businesses looking to enter into or expand in Asia. Unfamiliar laws, unknown legal exposure and unpredictable legal outcome can put off or turn away investment decisions thus frustrating efforts made by Governments towards economic integration and collaboration in the region.

3.What exactly is the Singapore Academy of Law doing to promote legal convergence?

This Singapore Academy of Law (SAL) is pioneering initiatives to bring about the legal convergence of Asian commercial laws to facilitate cross-border trade, commerce and investment. The twin initiatives include an international conference on legal convergence in Asia to held on 21 and 22 January 2016, and the launch of the Asian Business Law Institute (ABLI), an institution based in Singapore that will initiate, conduct and facilitate research and produce authoritative texts with a view to providing practical guidance in the field of Asian Legal development and promoting the convergence of Asian business laws. The ABLI aims to fortify these solutions and translate them into a set of model laws and practical legal guidelines that will help dismantle legal barriers to cross-border trade and commerce. These initiatives have received great support from some of the region’s leading judiciaries, corporations and law firms, as well as The Ministry of Law, Singapore and the Economic Development Board of Singapore. SAL’s vision sees Asia as being in a unique position to formulate commercial laws and practices that are attuned to Asian sensitivities.

lawzmagazine.com4.Who will attend the International conference in January?

The Conference will be attended by legal practitioners, general counsel, business leaders members of the judiciary, policy makers and regulators, and academics alike. The Conference will provide valuable insights into the question of how convergence, by transcending regulatory and legal obstacles, would promote economic growth within Asia. It will also provide guidance on how legal convergence would impact the manner and effectiveness of doing business in Asia.

Finally, attendees at the Conference will witness the launch of the Asian Business Law Institute, an organization set up in Singapore to promote the convergence of Asian Business laws.

5. What is ABLI and what will its role be? 

ABLI is an institutions based in Singapore that will initiate, conduct and facilitate research and produce authoritative texts with a view to providing practical guidance in the field of Asian legal development and promoting the convergence of Asian business laws. The ABLI aims to fortify these solutions and translate them into a set of model laws and practical legal guidelines that will help dismantle legal barriers to cross-border trade and commerce.

6.What are the key areas that ABLI will focus on? 

The ABLI will be launched on 21 January, 2016. Subsequent to its launch, the Board of Governors of ABLI will decide on what areas the ABLI should focus on. Among the issues that the ABLI is likely to focus on initially are: enforcement of foreign judgment rules in ASEAN, Australia, China and India; streamlining Asian cross-border small claims procedures, an area particularly relevant to the rapidly growing e-commerce sector; and fleshing out a set of guiding principles relating to Asian data privacy laws. The development and drafting of standard from contracts for specific sectors and industries is another are that ABLI could help facilitate.

Another focus area for the ABLI could be to produce authoritative statements of what the major current trends of business law are as they exist in the Asian region. For example, in American jurisprudence, Restatements of the law serve as model laws that are designed to clarify specific legal issues. Such authoritative statements or descriptions need not necessarily involve the endorsement of governments nor be binding instruments. Their acceptability will largely depend upon their persuasive scholarly authority and market relevance.

Judiciaries around the region can then contribute to the convergence of business laws by considering these authoritative statements carefully in arriving at their own decisions in accordance with their own laws. Such a process at a judicial level can help reduce legal uncertainty and be extremely beneficial for businesses, especially in a cross-border setting. Further, judicial convergence in the form of procedural harmonization leading to structured, timely and orderly frameworks for resolving cross-border commercial disputes and enforcing contracts will go a long way in fostering cross-border business.

-Published in LawZ February 2016 issue.

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