Singapore Mediation Centre saw record number of cases and disputed sums in 2017

The centre handled 538 matters for mediation and $2.7 billion in disputed sums in 2017.
The centre handled 538 matters for mediation and $2.7 billion in disputed sums in 2017.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - More people are choosing to talk things through when it comes to disputes, going by how the Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC) had a record number of cases last year.

The centre handled $2.7 billion in disputed sums last year, also a record high since it was set up more than 20 years ago, it said in a statement on Tuesday (Jan 16).

Last year, there were 538 matters filed for mediation at the SMC, an 8 per cent increase from 2016. Of these, 465 were eventually mediated, a 15 per cent rise from the previous year.

The centre said its caseload has grown year on year, due to greater acceptance of mediation as "a more affordable, flexible and accessible dispute resolution option" instead of pursuing legal action in court.

Most matters mediated are commercial in nature, with construction and company or shareholder disputes the most common, added the centre.

The SMC, which comes under the Singapore Academy of Law, is a not-for-profit organisation providing commercial mediation services.

The centre's executive director Loong Seng Onn said: "Our latest statistics show an ever increasing confidence that mediation can be effective in resolving high value commercial cases."

Increasingly more cases, such as neighbour disputes, shareholder disputes, and sophisticated contract arrangements are turning to mediation where they are successfully resolved, said lawyer Francis Goh, a partner at Eversheds Harry Elias.

Allen & Gledhill Senior Counsel Stanley Lai said one reason for there being more mediation cases could be because Singapore lawyers come under a professional obligation to "consciously advise" clients to pursue alternative dispute resolution.

In 2016, an amendment to the Supreme Court Practice Directions made it necessary for lawyers to advise their clients about the different ways disputes may be resolved using alternative dispute resolution, including mediation.

Dr Lai, a partner and head of the law firm's Intellectual Property practice, said mediation can bring certainty in terms of settled outcomes and save on legal costs.

"A key factor for successful mediation is that both parties are consciously willing to participate in the process and accept that a negotiated settlement entails concessions on the part of both parties," he added.

Mediation can resolve matters not just in terms of monetary compensation but also afford parties emotional closure, said Senior Counsel Kuah Boon Theng.

The director of Legal Clinic law firm said: "A lot of people find mediation a kinder process and the closure it can provide is often valued a lot more than compensation."

Mediation also puts control in the hands of participants as it is up to the parties to negotiate and work out an arrangement. "You do not have an adjudicator pronouncing a decision on the matter, the parties are in control."

Ms Kuah, who specialises in medical law, cited a mediation case that happened some years ago, involving a couple whose young child died during a stay in hospital.

"It became apparent that the mother had a lot of unresolved grief," said Ms Kuah. She said the mother questioned herself on whether she could have done more to help her child or called for a doctor's attention sooner.

But after the parties assured her that she did everything right by her child and acknowledged that the medical team should have paid more attention to her instincts, the mediation was successful.

"You could see the relief in her face, like she had let go of that burden. Once she was able to come to terms, she just wanted to resolve the matter and we were able to very quickly come to a resolution on the claim."