S'pore may build virtual dispute resolution platform in the metaverse: Edwin Tong

An attendee wearing a virtual reality headset at TechLaw.Fest 2022 on July 20. PHOTO: SINGAPORE ACADEMY OF LAW

SINGAPORE - The Republic is exploring the possibility of building a virtual platform for international dispute resolution which will offer arbitration hearings and mediation sessions in the metaverse, said Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong on Wednesday (July 20).

This platform could tap augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology to enable parties involved in a dispute to view a replica of a relevant site.

"For example, in construction disputes, (that would mean) transporting the disputants to the location instead of poring over 2-D plans and diagrams," said Mr Tong, who is also Minister for Culture, Community and Youth.

"So, they can put themselves into the actual tunnel or the oil containment facility, for example, to look at the construction dispute from the perspective of an augmented reality 3-D representation of the actual space, allowing parties to really feel as if they're looking at the relevant defect in question and making sure that they are all on the same page."

The minister noted that many businesses, legal counsel, arbitrators, mediators and expert witnesses come to Singapore for arbitration hearings and mediation services even if their disputes do not have a substantial connection to Singapore.

He added that the Republic is a choice location for such services because of its strong legal system and infrastructure, rule of law and first-class judiciary, as well as accessibility and connectivity.

These are qualities that remain accessible online, in a virtual space, Mr Tong said.

"To meet the demands of these businesses, we will continually upgrade and update our policies, look at legislation and look at services to not just keep pace with global developments, but perhaps be one step ahead of the curve.

"If businesses see a need for an online replica of what Singapore might offer in the real world space, for this to be replicated in the metaverse space, we will explore building one."

Mr Tong was speaking at the opening of this year's TechLaw.Fest, an annual conference on law and technology. The three-day event features speakers from the law and technology scene, as well as academics and government officials.

The metaverse is a shared virtual world connected by the Internet, in which people use digital avatars to participate in many social, entertainment and business activities that currently take place in the physical world.

Mr Tong said the Government is closely studying the characteristics of the metaverse and its implications, risks and related legal issues. "For instance, the immersive, interactive, decentralised and anonymous elements pose potential risks to online safety, consumer protection, privacy and the protection of intellectual property," he said.

While no one knows yet what the final state of the metaverse might look like, many businesses, governments and users are confident in its future, Mr Tong added.

Last month, several big tech giants like Microsoft and Meta, which owns Facebook, formed a Metaverse Standards Forum in an attempt to foster the development of industry standards to make metaverse digital worlds compatible with each other.

On the topic of how the legal industry has embraced technology, Mr Tong said the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated that legal services and dispute resolution can take place online if necessary, through platforms like Zoom. Virtual meetings and hearings remain widely used even as life in most parts of the world returns to normal, he added.

Taking it one step further and offering a single integrated virtual platform for end-to-end dispute resolution services could make this process more convenient and efficient, even if users choose to do part of it offline, the minister said.

"The Government is actively considering all of these issues to see where it pans out, what technology can bring about, while at the same time balancing it against the integrity and sanctity of the hearing process.

"If there's a demand for this, we will consider building it, investing in it and providing this as a service."

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