Arbitration vs. Litigation: Choosing the Right Dispute Resolution Mechanism in Singaporean Contracts

Arbitration vs. Litigation: Choosing the Right Dispute Resolution Mechanism in Singaporean Contracts

Written By
Joy Cunanan
Updated on
May 6, 2024
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In the world of business, disagreements are bound to happen. When these conflicts arise, having a good way to resolve them is crucial. In Singapore, a major hub for global business, there are two main ways to settle disputes: arbitration and litigation. These methods have their own strengths and considerations, and they play a key role in sorting out contract-related disagreements. This article aims to thoroughly explore the ins and outs of arbitration and litigation when it comes to contracts in Singapore. By breaking down the pros and cons of these methods, we aim to give businesses the knowledge they need to make smart decisions when creating and structuring contracts.

As businesses navigate through the complex world of contracts in Singapore's bustling commercial scene, it's really important to understand how dispute resolution works. Arbitration, which is becoming more popular, lets parties choose experts who know a lot about their industry. These experts, called arbitrators, act as fair judges and help make sure things are fair. Plus, arbitration keeps things private, which means sensitive information stays safe. When time is of the essence, arbitration is quick and flexible, which helps businesses get back to work sooner. This speed is very helpful for companies that want to solve problems fast and keep things running smoothly.

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The Power of Arbitration

Arbitration is a widely recognised method of dispute resolution that provides parties involved in a conflict with a fair and efficient means of finding a resolution outside of traditional court proceedings. This process involves appointing a neutral third party, known as an arbitrator or a panel of arbitrators, who have expertise in the specific industry or legal matters relevant to the dispute. Unlike litigation, which involves a public courtroom and a judge, arbitration takes place in a private setting, affording a higher degree of confidentiality.

One of the most significant advantages of arbitration lies in its flexibility. Parties have the autonomy to customise the arbitration process to suit their specific needs, from choosing the rules and procedures to setting the venue and language of the proceedings. This adaptability can lead to faster and more tailored resolutions, which is particularly valuable in complex commercial disputes where specialised knowledge is crucial.

Furthermore, the arbitration process tends to be more expeditious than litigation due to its streamlined procedures and flexible scheduling. This can be especially advantageous for businesses seeking swift resolutions to minimise operational disruptions. Additionally, in an era of global commerce, the enforceability of arbitral awards across multiple jurisdictions, facilitated by international agreements like the New York Convention, enhances the attractiveness of arbitration for cross-border transactions.

However, it is essential to weigh the benefits against the potential drawbacks. While arbitration can offer efficiency and confidentiality, it may not always be the most cost-effective option, especially for simpler or lower-value disputes. Additionally, the finality of arbitration awards, with limited grounds for appeal, can be a consideration for parties seeking a higher level of recourse. Understanding the nuances of arbitration allows businesses to make informed decisions about incorporating this dispute resolution mechanism into their contracts, ensuring a balanced and effective approach to conflict resolution.

Advantages of Arbitration

Expertise and Neutrality 

One of the most compelling advantages of arbitration is the ability to select arbitrators with highly specialised expertise relevant to the dispute at hand. This ensures that the decision-makers have an in-depth understanding of the industry and the issues involved. Furthermore, arbitrators are neutral third parties, thereby significantly reducing the potential for any biases to influence the proceedings.

Efficiency and Speed

Arbitration is generally recognised as being a more expeditious process compared to litigation. Courts often have crowded schedules, leading to delays in hearings. In contrast, arbitration allows for more flexibility in scheduling, which can lead to quicker resolutions. This efficiency can be particularly critical for businesses that are keen on swift resolution to minimise disruptions.

International Enforcement of Awards

Singapore is a signatory to the New York Convention, which facilitates the enforcement of arbitral awards across over 160 countries. This global recognition makes arbitration a powerful tool for resolving international disputes. For businesses with global operations, this international enforceability can be a significant advantage.

Drawbacks of Arbitration


While arbitration can be more efficient than litigation, it's not always cheaper. The fees associated with arbitrators and institutions, along with legal representation, can add up. In some cases, particularly if the dispute is straightforward, the costs may be comparable to litigation, if not higher.

Limited Remedies and Appeals

In most cases, arbitration awards are final and binding, with very limited grounds for appeal. While this finality can be a strength in terms of conclusiveness, it can be a disadvantage if a party is dissatisfied with the outcome. In litigation, there are more opportunities for appeals, providing a higher level of recourse for parties who believe the decision was unjust.

Lack of Precedent

Arbitration awards do not set legal precedents in the same way that court judgments do. This can make it challenging to establish clear legal standards for future cases. Parties and their legal counsel need to be mindful of this when considering arbitration as a dispute resolution mechanism.

The Authority of Litigation

Litigation is a legal process that provides a structured and formal framework for resolving disputes through the court system. It is a well-established mechanism for settling conflicts and has been a cornerstone of the legal system for centuries. In litigation, parties involved in a dispute present their case before a judge or jury in a public courtroom, following well-defined legal procedures and rules.

One of the key strengths of litigation is that it creates legal precedents. Court judgments set binding legal standards that guide future cases, providing a level of predictability and consistency in the legal system. This aspect of litigation can be especially significant when complex legal issues are involved, as it offers clarity and the opportunity to develop legal principles.

Another advantage of litigation is the wide range of remedies available. Courts have the authority to grant various forms of relief, including monetary damages, injunctions, and specific performance, depending on the circumstances of the case. This flexibility in remedies allows for tailored solutions that can effectively address the specific needs of the parties involved.

However, the litigation process can also be lengthy and complex. Crowded court schedules, procedural requirements, and the potential for appeals can lead to protracted proceedings, causing uncertainty and disruptions for the parties. The adversarial nature of litigation, where each party advocates for its own interests, can also create tension and strain relationships.

While litigation offers a well-structured and formal dispute resolution process, it may not always be the most efficient or cost-effective option. Businesses and individuals need to carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of litigation when deciding whether to pursue this method for dispute resolution. Understanding the intricacies of litigation enables parties to make informed decisions and effectively navigate the legal system when conflicts arise.

Advantages of Litigation

Binding Precedent

Court judgments in litigation create legal precedents that can guide future cases. This clarity can be particularly valuable in establishing legal standards and providing a level of predictability in legal outcomes.

Full Range of Remedies

Courts have the authority to grant a wide range of remedies, including injunctions and specific performance. In certain cases, this broader range of remedies can be advantageous. It provides a level of flexibility that may not be available in arbitration.

Public Record

For some parties, the public nature of court proceedings can be a positive aspect. It can serve as a deterrent to potential wrongdoers and provide a level of transparency in the resolution of disputes.

Drawbacks of Litigation

Lengthy Process

Litigation can often be a protracted affair due to crowded court schedules, procedural complexities, and the potential for appeals. This can lead to prolonged uncertainty and potential disruptions for the parties involved.

Limited Control

Once a dispute enters litigation, much of the process is subject to court procedures and schedules. This can give parties less control over the timing and progression of the case. Delays in hearings and other procedural matters can be frustrating for parties seeking a prompt resolution.

Potential for Hostility

The adversarial nature of litigation can sometimes strain relationships between parties. The process is designed to be competitive, with each party advocating for its own interests. This can potentially make future collaborations and negotiations more challenging.

Choosing the Right Path

Selecting the appropriate dispute resolution mechanism hinges on a multitude of factors. These include the nature and complexity of the dispute, the desired level of confidentiality, the cost considerations, and the importance of establishing legal precedent. Businesses must also weigh the potential benefits of a quick and confidential resolution through arbitration against the potential for a more exhaustive but binding outcome through litigation.

Considerations for Arbitration

Complex Commercial Disputes

Arbitration is particularly well-suited for intricate commercial disputes where specialised industry knowledge is essential. The ability to choose arbitrators with specific expertise can be a significant advantage in these cases.

International Transactions

For contracts involving parties from different jurisdictions, arbitration provides a neutral platform for resolution. The enforceability of awards across multiple countries enhances the appeal of arbitration in international contexts.

Confidentiality Concerns

If parties wish to keep the details of their dispute private, arbitration is often the preferred choice. The confidential nature of arbitration proceedings can be crucial for protecting sensitive business information.

Considerations for Litigation

Establishing Legal Precedent

If the case involves legal issues that could set important precedents, litigation may be the better option. Court judgments in litigation create binding legal precedents that can guide future cases.

Urgent Remedies

In situations where immediate relief is needed (e.g., injunctions), the court system provides a more efficient path. Courts have the authority to grant injunctions and other urgent remedies that may not be available through arbitration.

Cost Considerations

For less complex and lower-value disputes, litigation may be the more cost-effective option. While arbitration can be more efficient, it's not always cheaper, especially for straightforward cases with relatively low stakes.

Navigate Dynamic Contracting Needs with Lexagle.

In Singapore, a well-crafted contract should not only outline the rights and obligations of the parties involved but also establish a clear roadmap for dispute resolution. Arbitration and litigation each have their merits, and the decision between them should be made after careful consideration of the specific circumstances surrounding the contract. By understanding the advantages and drawbacks of each mechanism, businesses can make informed choices that promote fair and efficient resolution of disputes, ultimately safeguarding their interests and relationships. It's important to view arbitration and litigation not as competing options, but as tools with distinct strengths that can be strategically employed based on the unique requirements of each case. 

Whether through the meticulous process of arbitration or the well-trodden path of litigation, businesses seek not only resolution but also assurance that their interests are safeguarded. Understanding the nuances of these methods equips enterprises to make judicious decisions, fostering an environment of trust and accountability.

Contracts go beyond dispute resolutions and can take valuable man-hours away from your team when in reality, the heavily manual processes involved in the contract lifecycle can now be automated with a single software like Lexagle. Lexagle is a contract management platform designed to streamline and enhance every facet of contracting. It empowers businesses to navigate the complexities of contractual relationships with confidence and efficiency. Book a demo today to discover our customisable features tailored to meet the unique demands of your organisation. 

Arbitration vs. Litigation: Choosing the Right Dispute Resolution Mechanism in Singaporean Contracts
Joy Cunanan
Joy is the Digital Transformation Manager at Lexagle. As a marketing professional in the Tech and B2B industry for over seven years, she is always on the lookout for the next best solution in the ever-changing online world. With a passion for helping businesses thrive and optimize operations, she shares her expertise in the power of contract lifecycle management and its capacity of easing the contracting process for busy organizations worldwide.

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