Steven Y. H. Lim
39 Essex Chambers
Maxwell Chambers Suites, 28 Maxwell Road, #04-03 & #04-04
069120, Singapore, Singapore
Peers and clients say:
"Steven is the perfect arbitrator"
"He is always on top of his cases and has a very good judgement and an excellent manner"
"Steven is a fair-minded and extremely capable arbitrator"
"He is highly sought after"
Steven is an arbitrator and barrister. He has over 100 appointments as presiding, sole, co-arbitrator and emergency arbitrator, seated in Singapore, England, USA, India, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. He is also instructed as lead counsel in arbitrations. He has extensive experience with SIAC, ICC, ICDR, SCMA, KCAB, LCIA, UNCITRAL Rules, and ad hoc cases involving Asia-Pacific jurisdictions and farther afield in a broad range of commercial disputes. He is recommended as “the perfect arbitrator”.
How does your expertise and experience as a barrister enhance your arbitration practice?
Barristers are trained to distil a case or argument to its essence. It is important for arbitrators to identify the primary issues for determination and focus the parties on these issues. The analytical ability to identify the key issues is an asset for arbitrators. My experience as a barrister gives me the analytical framework to hone in and focus on the key issues in a case as arbitrator.
What is the most essential skill for succeeding as an arbitrator?
Patience. Patience to listen to the parties – counsel and witnesses – hearing out each side fully before arriving at a decision; patience in analysing all the evidence, arguments, and legal material to get to the right result; and patience in crafting an award that carefully and clearly explains why the losing party did not prevail.
More arbitral awards are being challenged in court. Does arbitration have an enforcement issue, and how could this be addressed if so?
There’s been an uptick of due process challenges to awards in recent years. I anticipated this back in 2017 in my commentary on the Singapore Court of Appeal decision in AKN v ALC  3 SLR 488 (in  1 APAR SG 50).
This is due in part to the increased complexity of disputes being arbitrated. Several challenges have succeeded on grounds that the tribunal failed to consider an argument raised by a party or decided the case on points the parties had not raised and did not have the opportunity to address. Tribunals need to be ever more vigilant and proactive in case management, especially in tracking the issues for determination in a complex case. Maintaining an overview of the issues to be determined as the arbitration progresses is essential for tribunals to ensure they have considered for the award all arguments and issues put to them and the parties are given the opportunity to address all issues and arguments the tribunal intends to rely on in the award.
Confusion between jurisdiction, admissibility, and arbitrability has also provided scope for more award challenges. Courts have overreached in classifying some challenges as jurisdictional (and not issues of admissibility or, separately, arbitrability). The distinction between jurisdiction, admissibility, and arbitrability needs explication, particularly by reference to the application of jurisdiction in the New York Convention.
In your opinion, what aspect of arbitration practice is evolving the quickest and why?
The use of technology. The pandemic forced a conservative legal profession to take a big step in adopting new technology. Virtual hearings and other digital tools bridging the tyranny of distance in international arbitration are here to stay. There hasn’t been an en masse reversion to in-person hearings even though travel restrictions have ended. Virtual hearing technology and digital interfaces for managing paperless documents are evolving and improving. The future is not far off when we will participate in hearings in holographic hearing rooms, have live AI generated transcription, and seamlessly pull bundles of paperless documents off virtual shelves. This push towards technology is welcome, to improve our work processes and stay relevant.
What excites you most about the future of arbitration practice?
A wider and more diverse pool of practitioners, mirroring a wider swathe of arbitration users. As parties in more parts of the world, like Asia and Africa, engage more in international arbitration, I’d like to see practitioners from these “less traditional” places appear more as counsel and sit as arbitrators, bringing new perspectives and contributions to the development of arbitration practice suited to the needs of users from a wider portion of the world. International arbitration will benefit from diversity reflecting its users.
Some practitioners report an increase in early determination in arbitration proceedings. How might this impact the practice of arbitration in the near future should early determination become common place?
Increased use of early determination will make arbitration more efficient. Not all cases need to run the full course of pleadings, document production, witness statements and hearing. Some cases can be decided on legal or other preliminary points, if not in totality at least in part. There are persistent calls for arbitration to be time and cost efficient. The use of procedures tailored to the needs of the case, including early determination, is a step in the right direction.
If you could introduce one reform into international commercial arbitration proceedings, what would it be and why?
Document production. It’s costly, time-consuming, and often has little impact on the result. Document requests, while stated to be specific and relevant, are often unfocused and wide ranging. Arbitrators and counsel need to review the extent to which document production is required in each case and how this can be handled more efficiently. There will be cases where document production will be crucial, others where it will make little difference. A tailored approach should be adopted for each case. Eschewing the default adoption of multi-week or months-long Redfern Schedule exchanges will trim down the arbitration process beneficially.
You have enjoyed a very distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?
I’d like to continue honing my skills as an arbitrator. There won’t be perfection in case management and award writing, but I’d like to keep edging as close as possible.