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 the 18 most in-demand arbitrators (Chambers Global).
What was it about the law that made it attractive as a career? Has the reality exceeded the expectation?
I always had a love of public speaking. I also enjoyed debating and research, and believed that I would enjoy a career in the law. It has been a deeply a fulfilling career and an enjoyable continued journey.
How can clients be encouraged to pursue methods of alternative dispute resolution?
By the time most teams from law firms approach me, they have usually already embarked on an arbitration and need strategic and advocacy assistance. However, if they do approach me early enough, I may ask them to consider mediation if their end clients wish to preserve their long-term relationships.
How do you juggle heading teams in multiple jurisdictions as lead counsel and sitting in arbitrations across many seats?
While I am very disciplined and focused on my work, I am also able to multitask and mind map to deal with multiple matters at the same time. It helps that I do not require much sleep. This allows me to work on more matters and bridge time zones.
You have an active practice as arbitrator and counsel across at least six countries. How does your approach as counsel differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction?
I made the move into the civil law world more than a decade ago. I have maintained an academic position for over 25 years. The start of the journey and the end goal for different jurisdictions is the same. An advocate needs to capture the minds and the 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 case 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. I prepare my cases according to the key laws of each jurisdiction.
How does your work as an arbitrator complement that as counsel?
My many experiences as both counsel and arbitrator across civil and common law jurisdictions has made me a more patient and rounded practitioner. My experiences as arbitrator has given me a more balanced insight into how arbitrators think, and I know which interlocutory applications are meritorious and likely to succeed. 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. 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.
You are at the apex position of many national and international arbitral institutions and organisations. How have these experiences helped you in your work?
My long-term role in appointing authorities (currently AABD/BANI/CEAC/THAC) have been educational. I have also learnt a lot about how other leading arbitrators and counsel think. I have been involved in rules revision tasks. I also drafted the first UNCITRAL Model Law (2006 Revisions) legislation in the Asia-Pacific in 2008. My leadership roles in organisations such as APRAG/RAIF/IPBA have allowed me to participate and influence developments in international arbitration.
You are a highly admired arbitrator and lead counsel in both the civil and common law world. Do you foresee if either system will become more dominant in Asia five years from now?
The common law (English and Singapore law) will remain very popular but one sees the increasing dominance of civil law being adopted, particularly in dealings with larger jurisdictions such as China, Indonesia and Vietnam. The civil law is likely to become more dominant and widely used in Asia. Safe seats of arbitration such as Hong Kong and Singapore are likely to remain dominant because the judiciaries of both countries are transparent, completely independent and not subject to corruption or political party control.
What are the greatest obstacles faced by the next generation of arbitration practitioners behind you?
Increasing competition and the rise of bright new lawyers from jurisdictions that were not active two decades ago. There is increasing demand for specialisation in legal practice from an earlier age. There may be fewer lawyers who are able to handle matters dealing with a range of different legal disciplines. Increased competition from retiring judges and highly respected professors will add to the obstacles facing the next generation of arbitration practitioners.
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.
Colin Ong is a barrister and Queen’s Counsel at 36 Stone (London); chartered arbitrator and counsel at Eldan Law LLP (Singapore); and senior partner at Dr Colin Ong Legal Services (Brunei). 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 one of the three Asian law listed as an elite top 30 arbitration practitioner by the biennial Expert Guides – Best of the Best: Arbitration (2017 and 2019). Feedback includes: “an extremely creative and charismatic lawyer... the best cross-examiner that I have seen...a star performer with a brilliant legal mind, and an excellent advocate with a compelling style” (Chambers Asia-Pacific 2019); “a top person in the field...always very well prepared and asks very tough questions” (Chambers and Partners Most In Demand Arbitrators 2019); “he impresses as someone with fine commercial judgement and a commanding grasp of international arbitration” (tier 1 commercial silks, The Legal 500: Asia Pacific 2018).
He has sat as arbitrator and acted as lead counsel in over 350 arbitrations under many arbitration rules including AAA, BANI, CIETAC, HKIAC, ICC, ICDR, KLRCA, LCIA, LMAA, SIAC, TAI, UNCITRAL and WIPO rules. He has wide experience in many cases in diverse applicable laws including Brunei, Chinese, Dutch, English, Indian, Indonesian, Malaysian, Hong Kong, Philippine, Singapore, Swiss, Thai, Turkish, UAE and Vietnam 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 holds 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. 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. Editorial board member of several international journals including Arbitration (CIArb); Asian International Arbitration Journal; Butterworths Journal of International Banking & Financial Law; Badan Arbitrase Nasional Indonesia Journal; China-ASEAN Law Review; 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 appointments council of the Chinese-European Arbitration Centre, Hamburg, Germany (CEAC). He was listed in GAR’s “45 under 45”; former consultant to the ASEAN Centre for Energy; former board member of the Cambodia National Commercial Arbitration Centre; former panelist of the ASEAN Protocol on Enhanced Dispute Settlement Mechanism (nominee of Brunei Darussalam); 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.
Colin Ong QC wins widespread praise from market commentators for his outstanding work on high-value banking disputes.
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.
Colin Ong QC is “highly recommended” by peers for his profound expertise as lead counsel and arbitrator in high-value construction disputes.
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  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.
Colin Ong QC is praised for his "strategic mind" and "wide exposure to many different modes of dispute resolution". Sources further exalt his "mastery of civil law, which gives him an immeasurable strategic advantage."
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, and engaged as lead counsel, by sub-contractors, 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 and sat in complex, high-value international disputes. Many of his arbitration matters involve values up to some billions of US dollars. An example includes being appointed arbitrator in a US$2.6 billion SIAC case in 2017 involving a major infrastructure project dispute. He also acts as mediator or as expert determination in a number of large quantum disputes.
He works across all aspects of banking; commercial; IT; construction; and engineering projects. These include 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; pharmaceuticals and biotechnology; 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 Queen’s Counsel in England and Wales, and was elected a Master of the Bench of the Inner Temple (2010). He is a civil law professor and a chartered arbitrator; and he holds the qualifications of PhD, LLM, 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 Expert Guides: Best of the Best (2019) which places him among the top 30 arbitration lawyers in the world. Chambers and Partners (2019) describes him as "an extremely creative and charismatic lawyer”, “the best cross-examiner”, and “a brilliant legal mind, and an excellent advocate”.
He is a visiting law professor in several civil and common law jurisdictions; the author of leading advocacy and law publications, with two books listed as endnote reference books in ClArb’s Practice Guidelines on Costs and Interim Measures; and professor at the Academy of International Dispute Resolution and Professional Negotiation.
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, Germany; council member of the Hong Kong Centre of International Commercial Arbitration; adviser for the China-ASEAN Legal Research Center; member of the International Chamber Commerce Commission task force; member of the ICCA-Queen Mary task force (costs); vice chair (arbitration) of the Inter-Pacific Bar Association; vice president of the Asia-Pacific Regional Arbitral Group; and president of the Regional Arbitral Institutes Forum.
He was listed in Global Arbitration Review’s "45 under 45” list. He was lead counsel at the Singapore Court of Appeal case of PT Perusahaan Gas Negara v CRW  SGCA 30, which divided the construction law world and was named as a runner-up for the 2016 GAR Award 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). He was the former principal consultant to the ASEAN Centre for Energy, and the panel of the ASEAN protocol on enhanced dispute settlement mechanism. His languages include English (written awards), Bahasa Indonesia/Malay (written awards) and Chinese.