Singapore consults over liberalising domestic rules

Foreign firms in Singapore are rushing to meet this month's deadline to respond to questionnaires sent to them by a government committee which is examining whether they should be allowed to practise domestic law.

The Legal Services Review Committee, which was set up last month, is surveying foreign and local firms, financial institutions and banks in order to get their views on liberalisation.

Foreign firms have been asked the most questions – more than 20 – ranging from what work they do in Singapore and why they would like to practise Singapore law to why their offices in Hong Kong are larger.

Tony Grundy, resident partner at Linklaters & Paines' Singapore office, said: “The thrust of the questionnaire is whether Singapore's competitiveness in the financial sector will improve if foreign law firms are allowed to practise local law.”

He added that one of the committee's key concerns was to improve the status of Singapore law in the region.

But some lawyers are still cautious. “It is still early days,” said one partner at a major UK firm. We do not know if there will be a liberalisation and, if there is, what it will be. It is still a bit of a guessing game.”

The announcement of the committee took the international legal community in Singapore by surprise. The decision was driven by a desire to make the city state independently competitive.