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Colin Ong QC

Colin Ong QC

Dr Colin Ong Legal ServicesSuites 2-2 to 2-8Gadong Properties CentreBandar Seri BegawanBruneiBE 4119

Thought Leader

WWL Ranking: Thought Leader

Questions & Answers

Colin Ong is the first ASEAN national to become a QC. He is admitted to the Brunei and Singapore bars, and has handled over 350 arbitrations (commercial and investor-state) as lead counsel and arbitrator. He is listed as a top-30 arbitration practitioner worldwide by Expert Guides: Best of the Best (2019). A civil law professor, he is widely published in the areas of advocacy and arbitration. He is listed as one of the 18 “most-in-demand arbitrators” by Chambers and Partners: Asia Pacific (2019) and described as a “top person in the field”. His languages include Chinese and Indonesian (award writing).

DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER TO DATE.

I started in 1992 at the English commercial bar, where I remain. From 1996 to 2014, I was a member of two leading Magic Circle barristers’ chambers, two large Singapore law firms and my Brunei law firm. Recurring conflicts as an arbitrator have necessitated moves to smaller practices in my fields of practice. Since 2014, I have been at 36 Stone in London and Eldan Law LLP in Singapore. Since 1996 I have been a visiting academic at many leading civil and common law universities specialising in commercial law. I am part of the governing council at the national arbitration centres in Brunei, Indonesia and Thailand and also the Chinese European Arbitration Centre (Hamburg). I have also held other interesting posts, including principal legal adviser to the ASEAN Centre for Energy and Panel Member, ASEAN Protocol on Enhanced Dispute Settlement Mechanism.

YOU ARE HIGHLY SOUGHT AFTER FOR YOUR WORK IN BOTH CIVIL AND COMMON LAW JURISDICTIONS. WHAT ARE THE KEY DIFFERENCES WHEN ACTING AS LEAD COUNSEL IN CIVIL LAW AND COMMON LAW-GOVERNED DISPUTES?

The start of the journey and the end goal are the same. An advocate needs to capture the minds and hearts of the arbitrators. However, there can be a huge difference as to how one goes about achieving the final goal. An advocate starts off by mastering the facts and then applying the correct legal principles to the case with a good strategy. Common law arbitrators tend to require a bit more cross-examination of witnesses, while civil law arbitrators generally prefer a more intense academic approach towards the key documents and the main principles of law.

WHAT ADVANTAGES DOES HAVING SUCH WIDE-RANGING EXPERIENCE BRING TO YOUR PRACTICE?

I believe that my wide experiences have moulded me into a better rounded lawyer. I have the ability to quickly understand technical details and the application of the law to the facts at several levels. As arbitrator, I understand difficulties of counsel well and give all parties an opportunity to be heard and present their grievances. My proactive approach in engaging counsel allows me to control the proceedings and keep the process efficient.

The understanding of cultural differences of both counsel and witnesses has made me more patient and better at communicating with my co-arbitrators. As counsel, I have become nimbler, and my experiences allow me to anticipate what different tribunals are really looking for and how to present my case. I am better at anticipating how my opponents are likely to move. Experience allows me to combine many different skill sets garnered across different areas of practice, and to synthesise them into submissions that arbitrators find clear, reasonable and persuasive.

AS AN ENGLISH SILK AND A CIVIL LAW DISPUTES SPECIALIST IN ASIA, HOW DO YOU SEE THE GLOBAL GROWTH OF ARBITRATION AFFECTING YOUR PRACTICE?

The centre of gravity in the arbitration world has been moving closer to Asia over the past decade. I foresee that this trend will continue to grow unabated. The majority of my arbitration cases have already been civil law-based and Asian-based for 15 years. This continued shift of cases towards Asian seats only helps my practice, as most of the Asian countries are civil law jurisdictions. The natural ability to think from a civil law perspective, coupled with the advocacy skills of an English silk, have served me well both as counsel and as arbitrator.

YOU HAVE DEEP EXPERIENCE AS BOTH COUNSEL AND ARBITRATOR. HOW DOES YOUR EXPERIENCE IN EACH CAPACITY ENHANCE YOUR CAPABILITIES IN THE OTHER?

My many experiences as both counsel and arbitrator across civil and common law jurisdictions have made me a more patient and well-rounded practitioner. My experiences as counsel have made me a more sympathetic arbitrator, as I understand the challenges of counsel in putting their case together. It helps me to explain to full-time co-arbitrators what interlocutory applications are meritorious, and to deal with unexpected situations that may arise in the middle of a hearing.

As an advocate, I am able to see things from the other side and understand how the tribunal is likely to see the situation. It allows me to be more objective as to which points are likely to succeed, and which are hopeless points that should never be taken. Quick strategic decisions as to what points should not be attempted, and which opportunities arise out of cross-examination, need to be taken on the spot. As an advocate, I am fast at getting to the crux of the case; the real issues, and not wasting too much time on any bad behaviour by opposing counsel. Experienced arbitrators expect a high level of credibility from counsel and appreciate counsel who are able to help them grasp the key issues of the dispute. Arbitrators prefer focused cross-examination and succinct submissions that deal with all the key issues in a fair manner.

DO YOU SEE ARBITRATION EVENTUALLY REPLACING LITIGATION AS A FORM OF DISPUTE RESOLUTION?

As arbitration is consensual in nature, one would always need to have national courts in place to deal with any matters that fall outside the jurisdiction of the tribunal. I do not see a complete decimation of the litigation system. However, I foresee that even more of the largest commercial disputes will be arbitrated instead of litigated.

YOU WERE ONE OF THE DRAFTERS OF THE MALAYSIAN STANDARD FORM OF BUILDING CONTRACTS (PAM 2006), BUT WERE ALSO RESPONSIBLE FOR SUCCESSFULLY ATTACKING PART OF THE 1999 FIDIC RED BOOK. WHICH WAS MORE SATISFYING?

I enjoyed both experiences greatly. As a professor, I truly enjoyed working with the core drafting team to put together the 2006 Malaysian standard forms of contract. As a litigator, it was exhilarating to have been responsible for setting off the motions leading to the issuance of the FIDIC Guidance Memorandum 2013.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A YOUNGER PRACTITIONER HOPING TO ONE DAY BE IN YOUR POSITION?

Find a very strong and supportive mentor. Always ensure that your personal integrity and reputation is kept at the highest levels. Always try your best, but never try to mislead the arbitrator.

WWL Ranking: Thought Leader
WWL Ranking: Thought Leader

WWL says

Colin Ong QC is a pre-eminent figure in the region, where he enjoys a stellar reputation for his work handling commercial litigation across a range of sectors, from banking to construction.

Questions & Answers

Dr Colin Ong practises in England and Wales (36 Stone), Singapore (Eldan Law) and Brunei. He is the first ASEAN-practising lawyer to be elected Master of the Bench (Inner Temple) and appointed as an English QC. His practice as counsel includes banking, commercial, construction, corporate, energy, IP and shipping. Chambers Global calls him “extremely creative and charismatic”, “the best cross-examiner”, “a star performer with a brilliant legal mind” and “an excellent advocate with a compelling style”. He is ranked among the world’s top 30 arbitration practitioners (Expert Guides: Best-of-the-Best) and 18 most-in-demand arbitrators (Chambers Global).

What is it about your role as a litigator that you enjoy the most?

The challenges involved in taking on factually challenging cases, and interlinking them with law and superior strategies into a winning position, allowing for forensic cross-examination and advocacy to try to win the day.

What would you say are important qualities for the successful modern litigator?

A successful litigator has to be a master of the law, have much imagination and possess a hands-on practical approach. One has to be able to select the strongest arguments to present a credible case. It is important to be able to manage the direction of litigation in an advantageous manner that also allows the client to focus on their day-to-day business.

As a renowned lead counsel handling many civil law arbitration disputes, has that experience affected your approach to litigation and dispute resolution in general?

It has made me a lot more open-minded and develop into a better-rounded lawyer with the ability to quickly understand technical details and application of laws at several levels. Good, pragmatic civil-law approaches to solving problems can be applied to common law litigation. My understanding of cultural differences among witnesses gives me an advantage, as I know how to lead in cross-examination to expose their vulnerabilities. I have become more nimble and my myriad experiences allow me to anticipate what different courts and tribunals are really looking for, and how to present my case.

Have there been any significant recent changes to the enforcement of foreign judgments?

More countries in Asia have signed onto the Hague Convention on Choice of Courts Agreements. The recognition of foreign judgments by member courts of contracting states to the Convention has expanded the allure of court litigation in countries such as Singapore. Conversely, it remains to be seen how future mutual enforcement of UK and EU court judgments will be affected after Brexit.

How has technology created greater efficiencies in your day-to-day practice?

Technology allows me to work around the clock and across different jurisdictions with ease. It allows me to quickly assess vast amounts of documentation for relevance and check through proposals advanced by opponents and my solicitors.

How do you see your practice developing over the next five years?

I lead many legal teams across civil and common law jurisdictions in international arbitration. I get immense joy at seeing juniors improve their skills. I would like to continue what I do, but also expand my practice as lead counsel into more countries in Asia.

What is the secret to your success?

I am blessed with an excellent memory that allows me to selectively remember the law and battle experiences. I also get a lot done everyday as I do not require very much sleep.

Do you have any advice for young lawyers who are starting out as to whether they should focus their litigation practice in the UK or in Asia?

Both the UK and Asia are fertile grounds for commercial litigation. The rich court traditions of the UK have withstood the test of time. Litigation practices across Asia differ immensely from the UK, and from each other. Even commonwealth jurisdictions within Asia have continued to evolve. It is harder for young lawyers to be able to work seamlessly between both parts of the world. At the end of the day, juniors should decide where they would like to spend more of their time in the future, and then build up their expertise in that country.

Global Leader

Arbitration 2020

Professional Biography

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Colin Ong QC is a staple of the international arbitration field, and earns extensive recommendations from peers around the world who are "happy to endorse him for his strong work as arbitrator”, also winning widespread plaudits for his work as lead counsel in both civil and common law matters. “He is always on top of the detail as well as the big-picture issues,” adds one source.

Biography

Colin Ong is senior partner at Dr Colin Ong Legal Services and a member of the Brunei, English and Singapore bars. He is Queen's Counsel at St Philips Stone Chambers in London and counsel at Eldan Law LLP in Singapore. He has broad experience as arbitrator and counsel both in court litigation and in commercial and investment arbitration matters covering many commercial areas, including: banking and finance; construction and infrastructure projects (bridges, downstream projects, pipelines, ports, power plants, roads); insurance; mining and minerals disputes; energy disputes (coal mining and supply disputes, power purchase agreements, production sharing contracts, electricity supply, gas contracts and oil exploration joint ventures); information technology; intellectual property; licensing; shipping; telecoms; technology transfer; and general commercial trade-related matters. He is known for his abilities as a civil law arbitrator and professor in civil law jurisdictions. He has acted as arbitrator and counsel in many arbitrations governed under civil law as well as under common law applying most major institutional rules as well as UNCITRAL rules.

He is listed as a leading arbitrator and counsel by a number of publications, including Expert Guides – Best of the Best: Arbitration (2017). Feedback includes: “He is noted for his ability to summarise and condense complex legal arguments and concepts” (Chambers and Partners, 2014); “commercially focused with the ability to react extremely quickly when presented with any sudden problems” (Asialaw Profiles, 2014); “A very able advocate and arbitrator with a supreme command of legal issues”, (Legal 500 – Asia Pacific, 2017); and "he impresses as someone with fine commercial judgement and a commanding grasp of international arbitration" (tier 1 commercial silks, Legal 500 – Asia Pacific, 2018).

He has sat as arbitrator and conducted over 300 arbitrations as counsel under AAA, BANI, CIETAC, HKIAC, ICC, ICDR, KLRCA, LCIA, LMAA, SIAC, TAI, UNCITRAL and WIPO rules under many applicable laws including English, Indian, Indonesian, Malaysian, Hong Kong, Philippine, PRC, Singapore, Thai, Turkish and UAE law. He is the first ASEAN national lawyer appointed Queen's Counsel and is a Master of the Bench of the Inner Temple (2010). He is a chartered arbitrator and holds several legal qualifications including LLB (Sheffield), LLM, PhD in Law (Queen Mary, London), FCIArb, FMIArb, FSIArb and DipLCArb. He has been visiting professor at both civil and common law jurisdictions including the University of Hong Kong, the National University of Malaysia (UKM), the National University of Singapore, the University of Malaya, King’s College London, Universitas Indonesia, Padjajaran University (Indonesia) and Queen Mary, University of London. He is a member of the task force of the ICC commission (Arbitration) and the task force of ICCA-Queen Mary (costs and third-party funding).

He is the author of several legal texts, including chapters in leading books on advocacy and arbitration. He is an editorial board member of several international journals including Arbitration (CIArb); Asian International Arbitration JournalButterworths Journal of International Banking & Financial LawBadan Arbitrase Nasional Indonesia JournalChina-ASEAN Law Review; Dispute Resolution International; and Maritime Risk International.

He is the president of the Arbitration Association Brunei Darussalam; advisory member of the China-ASEAN Legal Research Centre; vice president of APRAG; vice chair of the IPBA arbitration committee; advisory councillor of the Indonesian National Board of Arbitration (BANI); vice president of the Thailand Arbitration Center (THAC); and board member of the Cambodia National Commercial Arbitration Centre. He is named in GAR’s "45 under 45" list. He is a former consultant to the ASEAN Centre for Energy and to the panel (nominee of Brunei Darussalam) of the ASEAN Protocol on Enhanced Dispute Settlement Mechanism; former vice chair of the IBA arbitration committee; former vice president of the LCIA Asia Pacific Users Council; and a core drafter of the Malaysian PAM 2006 Standard Building Forms of Contract. His languages include English, Chinese and Malay/Bahasa Indonesia.

Banking - Finance 2020

Professional Biography

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Colin Ong QC wins widespread praise from market commentators for his outstanding work on high-value banking disputes.

Biography

Colin Ong is Queen’s Counsel at 36 Stone Chambers in London; Counsel and Chartered Arbitrator at Eldan Law LLP in Singapore and senior partner at Dr Colin Ong Legal Services in Brunei. He has broad experience as counsel and adviser in court litigation and commercial and investment arbitration matters covering many areas of banking and finance, including: construction and infrastructure projects (bridges, downstream projects, pipelines, ports and roads), mining sectors, energy (coal mining, oil and gas supply contracts, production-sharing contracts, electricity supply), information technology, ISDA, and aircraft and shipping financing.

He has broad and deep specialist experience across a wide spectrum of banking law and financial services practice. He is regularly instructed by major banks, major investment companies, SWFs, as well as regional and local banks and major law firms to work as part of the drafting team and to provide front-end advice on commodities supply; cross-border structured finance transactions in major energy projects; power-purchase agreements;  major infrastructure; ISDA Master Agreements and IT projects. He regularly provides both litigation and drafting advice under English, Singaporean and Bruneian laws across various aspects of derivatives, financial collateral, Islamic banking, revolving credit facilities, securities lending, structured finance, swaps and syndication of loans. He advises financial institutions and their holding companies on regulatory issues and is regularly instructed by banks and financial services entities (including hedge funds) to provide advice in the development of new financial products and services for the ASEAN market. He advises financial entities on how to structure and market securities products without triggering securities laws. He represents banks, private equity and hedge funds in connection with new banking products. He is also regularly consulted on new Islamic banking products and disputes in relation to project finance, tawarruq disputes, insurance products and risk management, and the avoidance of riba and gharar.

He advises institutions without the requisite financial licences on how to work within the applicable securities legislation and has also had experiences in providing assistance to financial regulators on feedback as to regulations and comparative law. He also works with financial and non-traditional financial clients on a broad array of regulatory compliance issues, including issues related to anti-money laundering, anti-bribery and anti-terrorist financing.

As counsel, he has much experience in dealing with various aspects of civil fraud, enforcement, asset-freezing measures and tracing relief.

He holds several legal qualifications, including LLB (Sheffield), LLM, PhD in Law (Queen Mary, London), FCIArb, FMIArb, FSIArb and DiplCArb. He is a visiting professor of law or has been a visiting professor in both civil and common law jurisdictions.

He has been on various editorial boards, including Butterworths Journal of International Banking & Financial Law and Maritime Risk International since 2000. He was a core drafting member of the current Malaysian PAM’s 2006 Standard Building Forms of Contract.

Construction 2020

Professional Biography

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Colin Ong QC is “highly recommended” by peers for his profound expertise as lead counsel and arbitrator in high-value construction disputes.

Biography

Colin Ong is Queen's Counsel at 36 Stone (London); Counsel at Eldan Law LLP (Singapore) and senior partner at Dr Colin Ong Legal Services (Brunei). He has acted as arbitrator and counsel in over 350 arbitrations governed under civil and common law applying most major institutional rules as well as UNCITRAL rules. He has been appointed as arbitrator or engaged as lead counsel by both sub-contractors as well as state-owned entities and some of the world’s largest organisations (contractors, owners, financial institutions) in their infrastructure and construction projects globally with a focus on Asia. He has generally acted or sat in complex high value international disputes. Many of his arbitration matters involve values up to some billions of $US. An example includes being appointed arbitrator in a US$2.6 billion SIAC case in 2017 involving a major infrastructure project dispute.

He works across all aspects of construction and engineering projects, including civil infrastructure (airports, bridges, downstream projects, hospitals, highways, pipelines railways), electricity, industrial plants, shipbuilding; coal mining facilities, construction of turnkey plants, licence agreements, LNG projects, mining, oil and gas (power purchase agreements, production sharing contracts, electricity supply, gas contracts and oil exploration joint ventures), gas facilities, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, and ports, procurement contracts, power plants (coal-fired, gas-fired), steel, technology transfer, steel manufacturing facilities, urban development and wind farms.  He was the first ASEAN national lawyer to be appointed English Queen’s Counsel and was elected a Master of the Bench of the Inner Temple (2010). He is a Civil Law professor, a Chartered Arbitrator and holds a PhD, an LLM, a DiplCArb, LLB (Hons), FCIArb, FMIArb, and FSIArb.

He was the main lawyer drafter for the current Malaysian PAM 2006 Standard Building Forms of Contracts. He is highly recommended as a leading arbitrator and counsel in a number of publications including the top 30 arbitration lawyers in the world by Expert Guides: Best of the Best 2019. He is described as "an extremely creative and charismatic lawyer … the best cross-examiner … with a brilliant legal mind, and an excellent advocate” (Chambers and Partners 2019).

Former visiting professor of construction law at Kings College London and author of leading advocacy and law publications with two books listed as EndNote 1 reference books in CIArb practice guidelines on Costs and Interim Measures.

Dr Ong is President of the Arbitration Association Brunei Darussalam; Chairman of the International Advisory Board of the Thailand Arbitration Center; Advisory Council member of the Indonesian National Board of Arbitration (BANI); Appointing Council of the Chinese European Arbitration Centre (CEAC), Germany; adviser for China-ASEAN Legal Research Center; member of taskforce of the International Chamber Commerce Commission; member of ICCA-Queen Mary Task Force (costs); Vice Chair (arbitration) of the Inter-Pacific Bar Association; Vice President  of the Asia-Pacific Regional Arbitral Group; President of the Regional Arbitral Institutes Forum (RAIF).

He was listed as a “45 under 45” in Global Arbitration Review. He was lead counsel at the Singapore Court of Appeal case of PT Perusahaan Gas Negara v CRW [2015] SGCA 30 which divided the construction law world and was named as GAR Awards 2016 runner-up for Most Important Reported Decision. He was lead counsel in a different arbitration which led to FIDIC amending Clause 20 of its 1999 suite (http://fidic.org/node/1615). Former principal consultant to the ASEAN centre for energy, and panel of the ASEAN protocol on enhanced dispute settlement mechanism. His languages include English (written awards), Bahasa Indonesia/Malay (written awards) and Chinese.

Litigation 2019

Professional Biography

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Colin Ong QC is a pre-eminent figure in the region, where he enjoys a stellar reputation for his work handling commercial litigation across a range of sectors, from banking to construction.

Biography

Colin Ong is senior partner at Dr Colin Ong Legal Services and a member of the Brunei, English and Singapore bars. He is Queen's Counsel at 36 Stone Chambers in London and counsel at Eldan Law LLP in Singapore. He has broad experience as arbitrator and counsel both in court litigation and in commercial and investment arbitration matters covering many commercial areas, including: banking and finance; construction and infrastructure projects (bridges, downstream projects, pipelines, ports, power plants, roads); insurance; mining and minerals disputes; energy disputes (coal mining and supply disputes, power purchase agreements, production sharing contracts, electricity supply, gas contracts and oil exploration joint ventures); information technology; intellectual property; licensing; shipping; telecoms; technology transfer; and general commercial trade-related matters. He is known for his abilities as a civil law arbitrator and professor in civil law jurisdictions. He has acted as arbitrator and counsel in many arbitrations governed under civil law as well as under common law applying most major institutional rules as well as UNCITRAL rules.

He is listed as a leading arbitrator and counsel by a number of publications, including Expert Guides’ Best of the Best: Arbitration (2017 and 2019). Feedback cited in Chambers describes him as “an extremely creative and charismatic lawyer", "the best cross-examiner that I have seen” and “a star performer with a brilliant legal mind, and an excellent advocate with a compelling style."

He has sat as arbitrator and conducted over 350 arbitrations as counsel under AAA, BANI, CIETAC, HKIAC, ICC, ICDR, KLRCA, LCIA, LMAA, SIAC, TAI, UNCITRAL and WIPO rules under many applicable laws including English, Indian, Indonesian, Malaysian, Hong Kong, Philippine, PRC, Singapore, Thai, Turkish and UAE law. He is the first ASEAN national lawyer appointed to Queen's Counsel and is a Master of the Bench of the Inner Temple (2010). He is a chartered arbitrator and holds several legal qualifications including an LLB (Sheffield), an LLM, a PhD in law (Queen Mary, London), FCIArb, FMIArb, FSIArb and DipLCArb. He has been visiting professor at the University of Hong Kong, the National University of Malaysia, the National University of Singapore, the University of Malaya, King's College London, Universitas Indonesia, Padjajaran University (Indonesia) and Queen Mary, University of London.

He is an editorial board member of several international journals including Arbitration (CIArb); Asian International Arbitration JournalButterworths Journal of International Banking & Financial LawBadan Arbitrase Nasional Indonesia JournalChina-ASEAN Law Review; Dispute Resolution International; and Maritime Risk International.

He is the president of the Arbitration Association Brunei Darussalam; advisory member of the China–ASEAN Legal Research Centre; vice president of APRAG; vice chair of the IPBA arbitration committee; advisory councillor of the Indonesian National Board of Arbitration (BANI); vice president of the Thailand Arbitration Center (THAC); and appointing authority at the Chinese-European Arbitration Centre(CEAC)(Hamburg). He is named in GAR's "45 under 45" list. He is a former consultant to the ASEAN Centre for Energy and to the panel (nominee of Brunei Darussalam) of the ASEAN Protocol on Enhanced Dispute Settlement Mechanism; former vice chair of the IBA arbitration committee; former vice president of the LCIA Asia Pacific Users Council; and a core drafter of the Malaysian PAM 2006 Standard Building Forms of Contract. His languages include English, Chinese and Malay/Bahasa Indonesia.

WWL Ranking: Recommended

Features by Colin Ong QC

Banking 2018: Roundtable

Banking 2018: Roundtable

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