eDiscovery: The View From Singapore

06 May 2013 IT-Lex Technology Law Publication

IT-Lex Technology Law

The Singaporean government has adopted aggressive measures to become a regional center for dispute resolution and arbitration in areas ranging from intellectual property, to oil and gas arbitration.

Singaporean court officials have made eDiscovery part of their broader plan to drive dispute resolution and arbitration to the country. In August 2011, Singapore hosted an International Conference on Electronic Litigation, during which then-Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Chan Sek Keong, stated:

“For Singapore to maintain its lead as a regional dispute resolution centre – whether for litigation or arbitration – our profession must be personally equipped with both the technical tools and the skill set to be able to handle cross-border disputes involving large volumes of documents and in a cost-efficient manner.”

Since 2009, Singapore has taken the lead among Asian Pacific countries in embracing eDiscovery and making it a standard part of court proceedings. This approach is reflected by two recently updated initiatives: the Protocol for the Discovery and Inspection of Electronically Stored Documents, part of the Supreme Court’s Practice Directives; and, a new eLitigation system for filings made with the Supreme Court of Singapore.

The Protocol for the Discovery and Inspection of Electronically Stored Documents, is an optional protocol by the Supreme Court of Singapore, and is recommended for parties in the following circumstances: (1) where the claim or the counterclaim exceeds $ 1 million; (2) where documents discoverable by a party exceed 2,000 pages in aggregate; or, (3) where documents discoverable in the case or matter are comprised substantially of electronic mail and/or electronic documents. The most notable case thus far addressing the use of the ESD protocol is Deutsche Bank AG v Chang Tse Wen and others [2010] SGHC 125. In the case, the court found that it could order an unwilling party to follow specific eDiscovery protocols, and also found a party had the right to inspect the original of a document which exists electronically.

Singapore was already a pioneer with its Electronic Filing System (“EFS”), launched in 2000. As of January 2013, the country began a rollout to a more intense paperless system, Integrated Electronic Litigation System (“eLitigation”). The new system is meant to “keep[] the system relevant and flexible to meet the ongoing demands.”

Interestingly, the push for eDiscovery in Singapore corresponds with a legal community mostly made up of small law firms. According to the Singapore Academy of Law, “80% of the 800 law firms have fewer than 5 lawyers, and these smaller law firms find it challenging to utilize technology in view of their limited financial and technical expertise.” The shift to an electronic filing system and the widespread use of eDiscovery may offer suggestions for how small law firms and sole practitioners in other countries, including the United States, can find cost-effective ways to use eDiscovery tools to their benefit.

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