Singapore Court of Appeal reverses High Court decision on jurisdictional issues, holding that all claims should be heard in Singapore

15 October, 2020

On 30 September 2020 judgment was handed down by the Court of Appeal (“CA”) in Bunge SA and another v Shrikant Bhasi and other appeals [2020] SGCA 94. The case arose out of four appeals concerning the High Court’s decision to stay certain claims in a Singapore court action in favour of either India or arbitration. The judgment provides important guidance on a range of jurisdiction and arbitration issues.

The plaintiffs in the Singapore action are Bunge SA (“BSA”) and Grains and Industrial Products Trading Pte Ltd (“GRIPT”), collectively the “Bunge Entities”. They were represented before the CA by Essex Court Chambers Duxton’s Toby Landau QC, assisted by Rachel Low and instructed by Allen & Gledhill LLP and Reed Smith LLP.

The CA has allowed the two appeals brought by the Bunge Entities and dismissed the two appeals that had been brought by the three defendants in the action, namely (1) State Bank of India, (2) Advantage Overseas Private Limited (“AOPL”), and (3) Shrikant Bhasi (“Bhasi”). The CA’s judgment is that all the claims in the action will be heard in Singapore.

This was a case involving jurisdiction challenges in the context of a transnational multi-party commercial dispute arising from a network of relationships and contracts, some of which were subject to different and inconsistent dispute resolution clauses. The CA’s judgment includes key analysis, in particular, on the following four issues:

  1. What is the scope of the phrase “arising out of or in connection with” that is commonly found in dispute resolution clauses? Specifically, is it broad enough to cover disputes that arise from pre-contractual conduct that led to parties entering into the contract containing the dispute resolution clause?
  2. Where a commercial transaction consists of a series of back-to-back contracts that contain inconsistent dispute resolution clauses, which dispute resolution clause applies to a dispute concerning the overall transaction?
  3. Where a relationship between parties is governed by two contracts that cover different time periods (without overlap), how are inconsistent dispute resolution clauses in the contracts to be reconciled in the light of a clause in the later contract that provides that that contract supersedes the earlier contract?
  4. Does the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic (and consequent restrictions on global travel) affect the weight of considerations such as witness availability and compellability in applications to stay proceedings in favour of another jurisdiction?