Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC, at the Second Reading of the Singapore Convention on Mediation Bill (Bill No. 5/2020)
Sir, I stand in support of the Bill.
Mediation has been growing in prominence in Singapore’s dispute resolution landscape. One starting point for institutionalised mediation in Singapore could be then Attorney-General Chan Sek Keong’s speech at the Opening of the Legal Year 1996 on the need to look into mediation as a form of alternative dispute resolution and suggestion to establish a commercial mediation centre.
Since then, Singapore has made great leaps in institutionalised mediation.
In 2020, we now have a proliferation of mediation institutes, including the Singapore Mediation Centre, the Singapore International Mediation Centre, and the Singapore International Mediation Institute, among others.
The Presumption of ADR applies for all civil cases under the State Courts Practice Directions, which requires cases to be referred to the most appropriate mode of ADR, including mediation, as a first resort.
Finally, in November 2017, Singapore’s Mediation Act came into force. Amongst the significant developments introduced by the Singapore Mediation Act was allowing mediated settlement agreements to be recorded and enforced as court judgments.
It is thus a point of much pride that the progress Singapore has made on mediation domestically is now magnified on the international stage through the Singapore Convention on Mediation.
This Bill gives effect to the convention. Similar to the Singapore Mediation Act, it addresses the non-enforceability of mediated settlement agreements, which has been traditionally an obstacle to the adoption of mediation.
The 1958 New York convention, which streamlined the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards led to the boom in arbitration. It is hoped that the Singapore Convention on Mediation will now put international mediation on an even footing as international arbitration.
I have three clarifications on the Bill.
My first clarification centers on mediation standards.
The proposed Section 7(2)(e) provides that an international settlement agreement may not be enforced if “there was a serious breach by the mediator who conducted the mediation that resulted in the international settlement agreement of the standards applicable to the mediator, or the mediation”.
There is currently no single set of mediation standards in Singapore or internationally. Mediation standards in Singapore are fragmented.
The Singapore Mediation Centre has a Code of Conduct for its mediators in sessions held by SMC. The Singapore International Mediation Institute has a Code of Professional Conduct applicable to any mediation that is mediated by a Singapore International Mediation Institute Mediator or SIMI Mediator while the Society of Mediation Professionals (Singapore) is a group of mediators looking to develop a collective, localised and contextualised code of ethics.
Can the Minister share if its plans are to leave the industry to self-regulate in determining the applicable mediator standards or if the Ministry intends to take the lead in consolidating a single set of mediation standards?
My second clarification is in relation to section 7(2)(e), which states that only a “serious breach” by the mediator justifies the Court refusing to grant relief.
The Convention and the Bill do not define what constitutes a “serious breach”. A further hurdle to determining what is a “serious breach’ is the fragmented state of mediation standards.
Can the Minister share whether there are plans for the Ministry to provide guidance on what should constitute “serious breach” or will the definition be left entirely up to the Courts and mediation institutions?
Civil justice reforms
My third clarification is on civil justice reforms.
The Convention and the Bill enable the enforcement of mediated international settlement agreements.
Domestically, the enforcement process for civil judgments is under review.
The Civil Justice Review Committee’s report noted that the “tools currently available for enforcing both monetary and non-monetary judgments are limited and unsophisticated”. It further noted that the enforcement process is too court-centric and that there are limited modes of enforcing non-monetary judgments.
The CJRC recommended that the enforcement process for civil judgments be privatised, and that the Ministry study the problems and proposals further. It also suggested that the Ministry implement civil enforcement reforms separately from the rest of the civil justice reforms.
Can the Ministry share whether this review of civil enforcement procedures will affect the processes under the Bill?
Sir, notwithstanding these clarifications, I stand in support of the Bill.
Watch the speech here
Watch the response by MinLaw here