Singapore’s New Centre for Dispute Resolution to take more holistic approach

Does that mean a yoga lesson for everybody before going in to bicker about money?

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[Singapore] A CENTRE for Dispute Resolution has been launched at the State Courts to pull together the different alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services under one roof.

Speaking at its launch on Wednesday, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said: “The centre aims to adopt a holistic approach to dealing with each dispute. Many disputes will involve different aspects of the law, and might even cut across the civil/criminal divide.”

He added that ADR should be the first step in any type of dispute, as it offers an opportunity to bring relief to the parties at an early stage, regardless of the legal nature of the claim.

A survey has shown that mediation of claims can lower legal costs, reduce time spent in court and deliver more-favourable results than going to trial can.

ADR processes now offered by the centre are mediation and neutral evaluation, the latter referring to assessing the merits of the case.

The centre will handle civil claims such as those arising from motor accidents and personal injury, Magistrate’s Complaints filed for minor criminal offences and other relational disputes such as applications under the Protection from Harassment Act.

Before the centre was launched, all civil claims were directed to the Primary Dispute Resolution Centre for ADR; Magistrate’s Complaints were referred for mediation in the State Courts’ Crime Registry, and pre-trial resolution for specific criminal matters were handled via Criminal Case Resolution Conferences.

Among other things, the centre will also focus on improving the quality of ADR provided for motor accident and personal-injury cases by tightening the process for the resolution of such claims, as well as on encouraging court volunteers to take part in ADR by creating progression pathways and learning programmes for them. It will also boost its collaboration efforts with ADR agencies, the universities and the Bar.

Guidelines will be passed for mediation via internet communication programme Skype for parties residing overseas and who may be unable to travel to Singapore for the proceedings; these guidelines would also be for mediation involving foreign incorporated entities with no local representatives.

The centre has seven judge mediators and more than 100 volunteer mediators. All the judge mediators have been accredited by the Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC); some have been trained by internationally-renowned programmes such as London’s Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution. Volunteers include members of the Bar, Justices of Peace and mediation professionals.

Chief Justice Menon also announced that ADR fees will be introduced for District Court civil claims, likely from May. This will relate to higher-value civil claims between S$60,000 and S$250,000.

The State Courts have been offering ADR services for free since the 1990s. Services for other claims – Magistrate’s court claims, motor accident claims, personal-injury claims and Magistrate’s complaints – will remain free.

Chief Justice Menon said: “While the vast majority of lawyers and court users have found this beneficial, a minority have taken it for granted and, as a result, have come ill-prepared for sessions or make late requests for adjournments.

“Our stakeholders have also highlighted the need to put in place a system that reflects the value of the work mediators do.”

The Mediation in Singapore: A Practical Guidebook was launched on Wednesday. Jointly edited by George Lim S. C. and Danny McFadden, managing director of the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution in the Asia-Pacific, the book traces the growth of mediation in Singapore, with contributions from mediators from the National University of Singapore, the Ministry of Law and the SMC.