Managing Risk in International Arbitration: Third Party Funding Developments in Asia

By Meriam Al-Rashid (pictured left) and Diora Ziyaeva (pictured right), Dentons

blog duoAs practitioners and clients alike are well aware, international arbitration is not without its risks. Third party funding is one effective risk management tool that can curb the potential losses and soaring costs associated with international arbitration by assisting under-resourced parties. To stimulate arbitration in Asia and maintain a competitive edge, Hong Kong and Singapore recently passed legislation providing express frameworks for third party funding in international arbitration proceedings, joining the global trend supporting this alternate source of funding.[1] As the Hong Kong and Singapore laws highlight, however, third party funding is not without its own risks. So, while third party funding can provide a useful tool to engage in arbitration, clients should be aware of the pitfalls they may encounter.

Singapore

On March 1, 2017, Singapore enacted The Civil Law (Amendment) Act of 2017 (the “Act”) and Civil Law (Third Party Funding) Regulations of 2017 (the “Regulations”). Under the Act and accompanying Regulations, third party funding agreements with qualifying third party funders are no longer illegal and unenforceable under Singapore law, so long as funding is provided for an international arbitration and/or related court or mediation proceedings. The Regulations stipulate that eligible third party funders must (1) carry on the “principal business” of funding dispute resolution proceedings in Singapore or somewhere else, and (2) have a paid up share capital of at least SGD 5 million.

The new legislation in Singapore has already had an effect. In April 2017, funder IMF Bentham opened its first Asian office in Singapore, in part persuaded by this new legislation.[2] In July 2017, Burford Capital announced that it was funding a claimant in a Singapore-seated arbitration.[3]

Hong Kong

On June 14, 2017, Hong Kong passed the Arbitration and mediation Legislation (Third Party Funding) Bill of 2016 (the “2016 Bill”). Under the 2016 Bill, the doctrines of maintenance and champerty expressly do not apply to third party funding in arbitration proceedings and mediation, including proceedings before emergency arbitrators and ancillary courts.[4]  Notably, the term “third party funder” under the Hong Kong legislation has a broader meaning than it does in the Singapore law in that it is not solely limited to professional funders. Thus, anyone, even those persons or entities that do not generally have an interest in the arbitration proceedings, can potentially serve as a third party funder. For example, law firms and/or lawyers in Hong Kong could provide third party funding, so long as they are not involved in the same arbitration.

The bill does not apply to litigation in Hong Kong courts, except for those proceedings which specifically relate to arbitration – such as enforcement and challenges to an award.  

Risks of Third Party Funding

While third party funding provides alternative and much-needed sources of funding for under-resourced parties, it is not without its risks. Third party funding can require a significant cost upfront as the party’s legal team conducts its due diligence on funders, and negotiates and sets up confidentiality and funding agreements. Arrangements with third party funders can result in undisclosed conflicts of interest and can also run afoul of rules of privilege and confidentiality, which vary across jurisdictions.[5] Third party funding also raises concerns regarding the improper influence that funders may have over proceedings. Since a funder has a direct financial stake in the outcome of the dispute, it may seek to pressure a party to agree to a course of conduct, such as settlement, even when not in that party’s best interest.

By regulating third party funding, both the Singapore and Hong Kong legislations offer some protections for parties seeking such funding. For example, the Singapore Act stipulates that, where a third party funder fails to comply with the requirements laid out in the Act and Regulations, it will not only be unable to enforce its rights under the agreement entered into with the claimant but it will still be required to fulfill its obligations to the claimant. In addition to the provisions under the Act and Regulations, Singapore’s Legal Profession Rules of 2015 were also amended, making it mandatory for legal practitioners to disclose the existence of any third party funding agreement to the court or tribunal and all other parties to the proceedings in order to ensure that there is no conflict of interest.

Hong Kong’s 2016 Bill calls for an advisory body to be created to oversee funders operating in the region. This advisory body will be responsible for undertaking biannual reviews of funding activity as well as creating a code of practice that will establish standards and good practices of third party funders regarding funding agreements and minimum capital requirements, and proper internal procedures to address conflicts of interest and complaints. While failure to comply with the code will not result in any judicial sanction or other liability, the code can be used as evidence and may be taken into account in a case of non-compliance.

Conclusion

Third party funding provides a much-needed source of funding and creates access to justice for many claimants who would otherwise have no means to engage in protracted dispute resolution proceedings. However, third party funding is, itself, fraught with risk. The Singapore and Hong Kong laws, then, provide a means to regulate this previously unchecked system. Whether the laws will adequately regulate third party funding without stifling it remains to be seen. Nevertheless, potential claimants should take advantage of these new legal developments, making sure to conduct the appropriate risk analysis in their assessment of whether to move forward with third party funding.

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ENDNOTES

[1] Singapore and Hong Kong join the United Kingdom, Australia and other countries that already allow third party funding.
[2] See Douglas Thomson, Singapore’s Seismic Shift on Funding, Global Arbitration Review (June 7, 2017).
[3] See Burford finances first Singaporean arbitration matter, James MacKinnon joins Burford, Burford Capital (Press Release) (June 29, 2017).
[4] The English doctrines of maintenance and champerty were intended to prevent “…gambling in litigation, or of injuring or oppressing others by abetting and encouraging unrighteous suits, so as to be contrary to public policy…” See Sapna Jhangiani and Rupert Coldwell, Third Party Funding for International Arbitration in Singapore and Hong Kong – A Race to the Top?, Kluwer Arbitration Blog (November 30, 2016) (citing to The Hong Kong Consultation Paper, referring to Ram Coomar Coondoo v. Chunder Canto Mookerjee [1876] 2 App. Cas. 186, at 210).
[5] In the United States, for example, third party funding agreements have been held to “create confusion concerning the party who actually owns and controls the lawsuit, and create risks that the attorney-client privilege will be waived unintentionally.” See Fausone v. US Claims, Inc., 915 So. 2d 626, 630 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2005).

Meriam Al-Rashid is a partner and Diora Ziyaeva is a senior associate at Dentons’ New York Litigation and International Arbitration practice groups. The views expressed in this article are exclusively those of the authors and shall not be attributed to Dentons US LLP or its clients.

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