Bahrain International Commercial Court: Transnational System of Commercial Justice

On 20 March 2024, a judicial milestone was taken by the Kingdom of Bahrain where a bilateral treaty was signed with the Republic of Singapore (the “Treaty”). Preceding the signing of the Treaty, two memoranda were signed by the judiciaries of Bahrain and Singapore in May 2023, namely the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation and Memorandum of Guidance regarding the Enforcement of Money Judgements.

The Treaty is the first of its kind in the Middle East and was signed during a virtual meeting between the Minister of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments, H.E. Nawaf bin Mohamed Al Maawda and the Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Law of Singapore, Mr. Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam.

This article will briefly outline the essence of the Treaty, highlighting its significance and its foreseeable impact in the development of the Bahrain judiciary.

What Does the Treaty Establish?

Bahrain International Commercial Court

Through the cooperation of Bahrain and Singapore, the Treaty aims to establish a Bahrain International Commercial Court (“BICC”). The BICC will be based on the Singapore International Commercial Court (“SICC”) model which will be adopted to settle disputes regionally and internationally.

The judicial model adopted by the SICC is renowned as a trusted and neutral forum that ensures efficiency and effectiveness in settling international commercial disputes. Since its launch in 2015, the SICC formed a diverse panel of international and local judges in both civil and common law traditions. In brief, the SICC combines international arbitration’s best practices with the principles of international commercial law, creating a so-called “arbitration in litigation”. This model aims to keep up with the fast-paced developments of international commerce and offer practical and compatible procedures with the demands of cross-border commercial markets.

The BICC is forecasted to hear international arbitration related disputes in the near future with relatively minor adjustments as Bahrain is a bilingual jurisdiction where cases are heard before appointed international judges in English at the highest level of court (the Court of Cassation). In addition, English language litigation is implemented by the Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution for specified cases pursuant to Resolution No. 28 of 2023, where disputes are settled without the need for English translations or the appointment of translators.

Designated Body for Appeals

Furthermore, the Treaty stipulates that cases heard before the BICC may be appealed, where such cases will be heard before a designated body in Singapore. The hearing of appeals by the SICC from the BICC aims to aid in providing the disputed parties a transnational dispute resolution route leading to the growth of international trade and overall development of judicial systems.

What is the Significance of the Treaty?

The establishment of the BICC and a designated body for appeals is forecasted to create a positive wave of change in the judicial system, catalyzing opportunities for growth and expansion. Hatim Q. Zu’bi, Managing Director of Zu’bi & Partners Attorneys & Legal Associates, commented on the Treaty and its vital role in Bahrain (for the commentary, kindly refer to the Al-Watan Newspaper publication linked here).

The Treaty embodies a balance between party autonomy and simultaneously ensures the adherence to public policy, and we are of the view that its implementation will lead to transformative opportunities on a regional and international level, such as:

  1.  the promotion of international rule of law, fostering the principles of, among other things, supremacy of the law, equality before the law and accountability to the law;
  2. The boosting of international trade and development of dispute resolution in international commerce;
  3. The protection of the rights and interests of the international business community, thus encouraging the commercial market to thrive;
  4. The reduction and resolution of current difficulties faced in international dispute resolution; and the development and supplementation of commercial jurisprudence.

Overall, the cooperation between the BICC and the SICC will pave the way to enhancing the standards of international commercial dispute resolution, building on current mechanisms and encouraging the prosperity of transnational commercial justice.

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