#10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Johnny Tan Cheng Hye, Independent Arbitrator, Mediator and Adjudicator
Johnny has been a sole arbitrator in more than 100 cases in both domestic and international arbitration since 1988. Besides serving on the panel of arbitrators of Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), Singapore Institute of Arbitrators (SIArb), and Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA), he is also with several arbitration centres, including Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC), Dubai International Arbitration Centre (DIAC), Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration (KLRCA), South China International Economic and Trade/Arbitration Commission/Shenzhen Court of International Arbitration (SCIA), London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA), Indian Institute of Arbitrators and Mediators (IIAM), and Russian Arbitration Centre at the Russian Institute of Modern Arbitration (RIMA) ‒ formerly known as the Moscow Institute of Arbitrators. He is also on the Advisory Council of the National Commercial Arbitration Centre of Cambodia.
Johnny is an accredited Adjudicator with Singapore Mediation Centre (under the Building Construction Industry Security of Payment Act) and is on the panel of mediators of Singapore Mediation Centre (Principal Mediator), China Council for the Promotion of International Trade/China Chamber of International Commerce (CCPIT/CCOIC Mediation Centre), Hong Kong Joint Mediation Centre, Japan International Mediation Centre, Kyoto, Singapore Institute of Architects, and Consumers Association of Singapore.
In this interview, he shared advantages of practising as an independent arbitrator, one thing he would change about the arbitral system, fun facts about himself and more.
Read his full interview below:
Q: Share with us your proudest moment of your career so far.
A: I am very proud to have been able to marry the practice of architecture and dispute resolution and maintain that practice for the past 33 years.
Q: You have enjoyed an illustrious career. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?
A: I am eternally grateful to the many people who have supported me in the course of my career as an arbitrator. Believing that one should not rest on one’s past achievements, there are many other things I have yet to accomplish. For example, in today’s business world where everything is interconnected, some disputes will require multi-disciplinary expertise and I would love to have the opportunity to be involved in such interesting and challenging cases. I will continue to strive to do more for as long as I am fit and able to.
Q: What are the advantages of practising as an independent arbitrator?
A: I can think of many. But two that come to mind immediately are (i) as an independent arbitrator, I am free to accept cases which appeal to me in terms of the novelty of the issues or the challenges they pose, and (ii) there is hardly any conflict of interest issues.
Q: Which do you enjoy practising more – arbitration or mediation?
A: The two are not quite comparable. They both have their own challenges, and I enjoy both. That said, I believe it is not a case of ‘one size fits all’. Some matters are more suited to arbitration and some to mediation. It is for the parties to choose the right platform for the particular dispute.
Q: Since you began your career, what has been the biggest change you have seen in relation to the way that arbitration proceedings are conducted?
A: It has become more formal and procedural. I had my first case as an arbitrator in 1988. Back then, arbitration was less formal and speedier and hence was less costly.
Q: If you could change one thing about the arbitral system, what would it be?
A: I hope that arbitration would be more open and inclusive with more non-lawyers appointed as arbitrators for suitable disputes. But for that to happen, non-legally trained professionals who aspire to be arbitrators need to invest time to learn and upgrade their knowledge and skills in arbitration, just as they do in continuing education in their respective professions.
Q: With travel restrictions being lifted and VTLs being launched, how do you foresee arbitration hearings in the next few years?
A: Arbitration procedural hearings and interim applications will probably continue to be held virtually. But I think substantive hearings will probably revert to face-to-face hearings.
Q: If you could go back in time, what would you say to your younger self?
A: Do exactly what you are doing now but start out earlier!
Q: To get to know you on a personal level, tell us 3 fun facts about you!
A: First, I am a food and wine lover. I love exploring new places to eat and chill out. Second, because of my love for food and wine, I swim 1000m and/or do 40-minutes RBT (Resistance Band Training) five times a week. Third, I am a museum volunteer docent. On weekends, you will find me guiding at the Asian Civilisations Museum, National Museum of Singapore, Changi Chapel and Museum, Reflections at Bukit Chandu. I used to guide at The Peranakan Museum as well, but it is closed for renovation until 2023.
Q: Lastly, share with us your fondest memories of Maxwell Chambers.
A: Just about every hearing I have had at Maxwell Chambers has been memorable in one way or another. The support that Maxwell Chambers provides to the tribunals, counsel and parties makes hearings held there a pleasant experience. In particular, I recall a virtual substantive hearing where a co-arbitrator and I were at Maxwell Chambers, the third co-arbitrator was in South Asia and the parties were in their home countries in East Asia and South Asia. The Maxwell Chambers team facilitated the smooth, seamless conduct of the virtual hearing.