Managing Community Disputes

MP Dennis Tan

Mr Dennis Tan Lip Fong (Hougang): Mdm Chairman, Members of this House will be familiar with residents approaching their Members of Parliament for help to resolve disputes they may have with their neighbours. These may involve frequent loud noises, use of space along common corridors, inhalation of cigarette smoke wafting into a person’s flat from a neighbour’s flat and so on. 

For HDB flats, the first port of call would usually be for HDB to intervene and speak to neighbours involved. However, HDB officers would often engage the neighbours and request for their cooperation and consideration by the resident who is the subject of complaint. This may work for some of the cases but for many cases, the problems may not be resolved.

If HDB is not able to resolve the dispute, it would often advise residents that they can refer the matter for mediation at the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) or even for resolution at the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals (CDRT).

Mdm Chairman, mediation may not always work to resolve disputes even if attended to by both parties to a dispute. However, as mediation at CMC requires the agreed participation of both parties to a dispute, many such disputes do not stand a chance of being resolved by mediation, simply because one of the parties opts out of mediation. Some residents deliberately would not respond to mediation, I heard.

While I understand why mediation should be voluntary and while I do understand that mediation may not always be suitable for every dispute, I feel that for a good number of cases, it is a good opportunity wasted for parties to try and resolve their differences during mediation when parties have the option to opt out.

I propose that we adopt a Court-based mediation where parties have to first go through a Court-led mediation when action is commenced at CDRT. If the matter cannot be resolved amicably, the dispute will continue to be adjudicated under the existing CDRT process. Such process is not new to the Courts and has been around in the State Courts for a number of years.

 I would also suggest that to encourage a better attitude towards reasonable resolution, the attitude and conduct of parties at the mediation should be noted for purposes of the CDRT procedure.

Next, I have a few suggestions in respect of the CDRT process. 

I urge the Government to review the CDRT process and see whether the system and procedure can be made more user-friendly for laypeople of different educational backgrounds. While the procedure may already have been streamlined for easier filing and participation by laypeople as compared to say our court procedure for the State Courts, many are still intimidated by the procedural and the written evidential requirements, including even the demands of the initial claim filing requirements. Are we able to reduce some of these formalities further?

Can we also review to see how we can make it less intimidating and more user-friendly for people who are not proficient in English, as well as for our seniors? 

Finally, while representation by lawyers are not allowed, judges hearing CDRT cases should also be alert for the possibility of one party engaging lawyers to guide them in running their case at CDRT as this may not be fair to the other party. Perhaps parties should be required to declare —

The Chairman: Your time is up.

Mr Dennis Tan Lip Fong: — at the onset that they have not engaged lawyers for assistance in any way.

Mr Dennis Tan Lip Fong: Thank you, Mdm Chairperson. Just a quick question for the Minister. Can I ask the Minister to elaborate more on the three categories of the cases eligible for mandatory mediation?

Mr Edwin Tong Chun Fai: It is as I said. Usually, it is the nature or the cases that are most appropriate.

Our studies have shown that the vast majority of neighbourly disputes result from noise. So, that would be one category of cases that we would like to put through mediation.

I also mentioned re-mediation in the event that cases which had previously gone to mediation but were not successful in maintaining the mediated position for a period of time and new issues arise related to the mediated agreement. The CMC can re-mediate those.

We also intend to make mediation the first port of call – something that will be required before a party can bring a case to the CDRT. The reason for this is because, as I mentioned earlier, we want to drive the parties’ behaviour towards mediation. The best thing to do is to say that you should not be using CDRT resources, which really should be reserved as a measure of last resort, without trying the mediation process first.

Those are broadly the three categories. We will, in the context of shaping the framework, be more specific about how they will be implemented in conjunction with the specific rules for mediation, and also the CDRT process and the rules for filing a CDRT claim.

Ministry of Law
27 February 2023

%d bloggers like this: