S'pore society urged to 'embed mediation in DNA'

Need for widespread education to enhance such a culture, says advisory panel chairman

Singapore's legal profession and other sectors of society here were yesterday urged to "embed mediation in our DNA".

Under changes made to Supreme Court practice directions in January, lawyers are now duty-bound to advise clients planning High Court civil lawsuits to first consider mediation or other options before going ahead to settle spats.

The direction, which provides guidelines for alternative ways of resolving disputes, says that cases ideal for mediation include commercial, neighbourhood and medical negligence disputes. It explains that two popular reasons for suing in court - "a matter of principle" or a "desire for revenge or punishment" - are "better suited for mediation than litigation".

The change is among several moves aimed at spreading the use of mediation in various sectors herethat were cited by Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee, chairman of the Law Ministry's Advisory Committee on Community Mediation. He was speaking yesterday at the Law Society's first mediation symposium, attended by around 250 people

"Taking a Singapore Inc approach, all the stakeholders should further develop their respective strengths to grow the collective pie - not just in terms of the number of cases, which I see is growing in our various centres, but more importantly and strategically, strengthening the eco-system, enhancing the mediation culture, projecting Singapore as an Alternative Dispute Resolution hub," said Prof Ho.

"Indeed, all of us living in compact, urbanised Singapore should embed mediation in our DNA." He called for widespread education to extend mediation's outreach.

The guidelines say that "give and take is infinitely better than all or nothing", adding that few litigants seeking retribution come away from court feeling satisfied. They point out that no matter how bitter the dispute, it is likely to be settled more permanently through mediation than a court judgment.

Senior lawyer Edmond Pereira said: "We also have to advise clients there is a potential adverse costs order against them if they insist on suing in court and the judge finds they have been unreasonable in refusing to consider alternatives like mediation."

Law Society president Thio Shen Yi also weighed in on the issue at yesterday's gathering, saying: "Mediation, with a more collegial, less adversarial approach to problem-solving, is here to stay.

"Conflict resolution does not have to be a zero-sum game involving significant expenditure on acrimonious, long-drawn court processes that result in financial headaches and personal heartaches."

Singapore Mediation Centre executive director Loong Seng Onn told The Straits Times that between January this year, when the new guidelines came in, and last month, there were 99 matters handled through mediation, 14 more than in the same period last year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore society urged to 'embed mediation in DNA''. Print Edition | Subscribe