“The Singapore Convention on Mediation is a watershed in the Singapore’s Alternative Dispute Resolution scene…we see online dispute resolution as a key part of the future”
In the previous issue of Ban Jiun Ean’s interview, he shared with us his reasons for studying law and his motivations to move to the creative industry. Read on to find out more about his return to the legal industry.
Why did you decide to return to the legal industry?
I am currently trying to get my books published overseas. This is a process that could take years. The road to becoming a published author is a long one. For instance, Stephen King wrote five novels before his first novel, Carrie, was picked up by a publisher. There is nothing I can do to speed up the process of finding an agent and then a publisher. I felt that in the meantime, I could return to a full-time job.
Although I enjoyed designing games, I did not view this as a full-time career. Designing games is my hobby, and I hope to return to a full-time career where it enables me to create a positive impact on the lives of fellow Singaporeans. Around the same time, the Singapore Mediation Centre was looking for a new executive director. I felt that this was an interesting opportunity where I could apply my experience of helming Maxwell Chambers as well as driving dispute resolution policies in Singapore. I was grateful that out of all the candidates that applied, SMC offered the role to me.
What are some highlights throughout your legal career?
The major highlight of my legal career would be the development and establishment of Maxwell Chambers as a premier international arbitration facility in the world. I spent ten years on it, from inception and development to running it and building it up to what it is today. I had the great pleasure recently of attending the opening of the annex, Maxwell Chambers Suites, and to see how much further my successor Katherine has taken the place. I continue to watch with interest the growth of this very special place.
What are some of the challenges you face in your job?
As a tool for dispute resolution, mediation is often an underrated product. At SMC, we conduct outreach events to promote mediation to the public. Many people have different ideas about what mediation is, but these are often incomplete or inaccurate. Mediation is very powerful and has many unique advantages, and usually, it only takes one experience in a mediation for people to become converts to it.
For instance, it is sometimes thought that when a dispute involves a huge quantum, mediation will not be a viable option, as the parties will be too far apart in their expectations and will probably need to resort to time-consuming court battles to force a decision. However, I know of a mediator who successfully mediated a case where the parties were USD$2 billion apart in their initial expectations.
Mediation offers the chance for creative solutions to be put on the table to resolve the dispute, and parties retain full control of the outcome. It offers a far better chance to preserve the relationship between the disputing parties than going to court or arbitration.
What is a typical workday for you and how does SMC differ from the other Mediation institutions?
As SMC is a subsidiary of the SAL, I am involved with the academy’s initiatives, such as the recent talk, The Big Deal: Managing Disputes in Asia.
At SMC, beyond promoting mediation through meetings with legal counsels and events such as those held in conjunction during the Convention Week, where the signing of the UN Singapore Convention on Mediation took place, we are a premier provider of conflict management and dispute resolution services and are also involved with the training in negotiation and conflict management. Hence, we are unique because most institutions focus only on one aspect (i.e. either providing case management or training), whereas we do both.
As a leading training provider of dispute resolution skills in the region, our training footprint covers every ASEAN country and includes countries outside the region such as Austria, Bahrain, China, Malta, Fiji, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates. As I recently joined the SMC, I am trying to get to know all our 700+ professional neutrals over the next few months as I want to build a good relationship with them. Although I am acquainted with some of them through my past stint at Maxwell Chambers and MinLaw, it will take naturally take a while to meet all the rest.
I also oversee the day to day running of the SMC. About 1,000 disputes are currently lodged annually, making SMC one of the largest, if not the largest, non-court dispute resolution centre in the region. Established in 1997, we the oldest official provider of alternative dispute resolution services in Singapore. Beyond the provision of our core offering, mediation, we also provide a suite of services which includes adjudication, neutral evaluation, collaborative family practice and Singapore domain name resolution service. As one of four designated mediation service providers under Singapore’s Mediation Act 2017, mediation settlements administered by us can be converted into court orders that are immediately enforceable. Furthermore, we are the only body in Singapore where we handle court cases which were referred for mediation. It is very convenient for parties as we are located within the Supreme Court. Disputes handled by us are complex, commercial, multi-party disputes, involving millions of dollars and about 70% of these cases are settled, with around 90% of them being resolved within one day.
As a firm believer in the power of mediation, what are your thoughts on the UN Singapore Convention on Mediation and how will this impact us as an alternative dispute resolution hub?
The UN Singapore Convention on Mediation is an important step forward in mediation’s growing role in settling cross-border trade and political disputes. Firstly, the convention helps to clarify what mediation entails and secondly, it will help mediation gain wider acceptance through the provision of an international standard for recognition and enforcement. With the buzz around mediation, people are getting more interested in meditation and this is great on the marketing front. The Convention is also expected to encourage more people to turn to Singapore as a venue for dispute resolution.
Beyond the marketing front, the Singapore Convention gives mediation real ‘teeth’ as it offers enforcement of settlement agreements achieved from mediations conducted in foreign jurisdictions. It is not commonly needed within mediation as the vast majority of parties who use mediation fulfil their obligation. The biggest advantage of mediation is to preserve the business relationship, so most parties try to avoid further damage to their relationship by not fulfilling their obligations under a settlement. However, the Convention is a good safety net as it is can be used on the rare occasion when one party decides not to honour the agreement or changes their mind before the enforcement date. This will provide further credibility and gives people more confidence when using mediation.
Also, within the minds of the drafters, the Singapore Convention was drafted in a way to instil the notion that mediation is a tool that will protect parties’ interest. This is very helpful as it will allow legal counsels to persuade their management or the other party to use mediation as a preferred tool for dispute resolution. Given that 46 countries signed the Convention on the first day, which is unprecedented for a UN Convention, this sends a strong signal that mediation works. Within SMC, around 70% of cases that entered into mediation get settled. Globally, around 2/3 of cases that entered into mediation got a settlement. Half the battle is won simply when people agree to mediate.
Hence, this is a watershed within the realm of mediation, as the Convention will open new doors and raise awareness at all levels.
Jiun Ean, a firm believer in mediation, attended the signing ceremony held last month.
What are your visions for the SMC?
For the past 22 years, the SMC has successfully spearheaded the mediation movement in Singapore and has dedicated time and effort to the promotion of amicable and efficient settlement of disputes.
Going forward, the SMC endeavours to do more to promote Singapore as a global mediation hub. We have a lot of government entities who are looking to put in place more formal schemes for industry-specific dispute resolution and we have the track record and credibility to administer disputes in specific industry sectors. Our mediators, which comprises of distinguished members of different professions and fields, are able to apply their expertise when mediating industry-specific disputes. Hence, we are working together with these government entities and we hope to be more involved in these industry-specific mediation schemes
Next, we are trying to move towards online dispute resolution. This is not about substituting technology into the dispute resolution process where mediation conferences can be held through video conferencing. Rather, we want to move to a point where the mediation process can be fully automated. This is especially useful for smaller value disputes where the system can find a plausible solution between the parties to bring settlement to an earlier stage. Hence we are working towards building a truly online system, covering multi-faceted situations that can even cope with the biggest and most complicated disputes.
Another exciting development for us would be helping our mediators develop a full-time professional career in mediation. A vast majority of our mediators are part-time mediators and we want to develop a pool of competent and experienced full-time mediators. This is because we want to develop them to become world-renowned global mediators who can handle huge international disputes. Ultimately, aligning with our nation’s goal to become a global ADR hub, the long-term goal is to develop mediators who can mediate country disputes!
What are your thoughts on legal technology, and how will it change the way the law is served, especially in the area of alternative dispute resolution?
Technology will change the way we do business, which will make be disconcerting and uncomfortable for some, while good for others. For dispute resolution professionals and institutions providing case management services, we need to be very familiar with the latest technological trends and developments to keep up to pace with how customers want to do their business. If we are not able to meet the needs of our customers, they may stop coming to us for the services we provide.
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to a practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.