Singapore CoA slashes $250m award to $700,000 after Essex Court challenge

Indonesian conglomerate Lippo Group has reduced a $250m arbitral award made against it from $250m to $700,000 after a battle in the Singapore Court of Appeal.

Essex Court silk Toby Landau QC secured the major victory for the group following a five-year legal battle in Singapore against Malaysia media giant Astro.

It is a significant ruling in a case that involved two Essex Court silks, with Toby Landau QC instructed for Lippo and David Joseph QC instructed for Astro.

It was the first time British QCs have been allowed to conduct advocacy in the Singaporean Court since the enactment of the Singaporean Legal Profession (Amendment) Bill in February 2012 (15 February 2012).

The long-running and hard-fought legal tussle arose from a pay TV joint venture between the parties in 2005. After the partnership turned sour and the JV shut down,  Astro secured five arbitral awards totalling $250m against Lippo in the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC).

The Singapore High Court upheld the SIAC ruling and Landau, who appeared at the High Court, was drafted in again by Braddell Brothers partner Edmund Kronenburg to challenge the decision at the CoA. Eversheds partner Oommen Mathew had represented Lippo at the original arbitration having instructed One Essex Court’s Laurence Rabinowitz QC.

The appeal court ruling, delivered by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, is widely regarded as a landmark pronouncement of the key principles in international arbitration in Singapore.

The judge confirmed that arbitral awards can be challenged on grounds of jurisdiction, holding that parties can choose between the ‘active’ remedy of challenging the proceedings or, the ‘passive’ remedy of waiting until enforcement proceedings got underway.

It has also clarified the circumstances in which non-signatories to an arbitration agreement can be joined into existing arbitration proceedings.

“This is a very impressive judgement and a first-rate piece of analysis by the Singapore Court of Appeal. It provides an amazing scholarly look at some key issues that have important impact on arbitration practices in Singapore,” said a London-based barrister.

“The court has not only clarified key principles but also answered important philosophical issues. It will further enhance Singapore’ position as an attractive place to arbitrate.”

In the 2008 SIAC arbitration, the tribunal was presided by 20 Essex Street Chambers’ Simon Tuckey alongside Fountain Court’s Gordon Langley QC and Essex Court’s Stewart Boyd QC.

WongParnership partners Alvin Yeo and Sean Yu Chou instructed Joseph for Astro for the arbitration.