Singapore Mediation Centre revamps for a better focus

2 August 2014
Business Times Singapore

Specialist mediators available to settle disputes in fields like banking, shipping, construction

THE Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC) yesterday unveiled a slew of enhancements, key among which was one to give companies easier access to specialist mediators.

Businesses embroiled in disputes can now seek subject matter experts from SMC in 10 fields who can help them settle disputes in sectors ranging from banking and shipping to construction and energy.

Of the 143 mediators in its stable, 60 have been groomed to be specialists.

The number of commercial mediation cases has doubled in the last four years; last year, SMC handled 214 cases.

The changes took effect yesterday following a two-year revamp of SMC’s core.

Speaking at the launch of the new logo of the centre, SMC chairwoman Justice Belinda Ang said that outside of the court referral process, the centre will focus on four segments – healthcare, insurance, construction and infrastructure, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – in order to “increase the number, quality and diversity of commercial mediations”.

SMC now provides a pilot healthcare mediation scheme which offers its services at subsidised rates to settle disputes between patients and healthcare institutes.

Forty-two SMC mediators have been appointed by the Ministry of Health Holdings to handle disputes in this area.

Justice Ang added that SMC will also settle disputes arising from the Personal Data Protection Act.

In its push for mediation to be a core practice, the centre had revamped its panels by early last year.

Principal mediators were given the choice between charging hourly rates and following SMC’s prescribed fee scale. Of the 143 mediators, 98 chose to remain on the centre’s fee scale; the revamped fees kicked in last November.

To make mediation a more viable profession, the fees of principal mediators have been raised by about 50 per cent from the minimum daily fee of S$3,000.

Another change is that associate mediators will now be able to handle cases involving quantums of up to S$250,000, up from only S$30,000 before.

SMC executive director Loong Seng Onn said this is part of a “long-term vision”, as there is now not enough work in mediation for mediators to work full-time.

He said many people are still unaware of the availability of mediation as a way of ironing out disputes, and expressed the hope that mediation will become entrenched and turn into a career path for some with the introduction of these measures.

SMC and the State Courts have started a pilot training programme to sharpen mediators’ skills and to equip them to handle Magistrate’s complaint cases.

A pilot programme with the Syariah Court of Singapore for Malay-speaking mediators will begin in October, focusing on divorces.

The centre’s revamp is in line with the government’s plans, announced last December, to develop Singapore’s mediation infrastructure.

Two new bodies will be set up. One is the Singapore International Mediation Centre, a mediation hub; and the other is the Singapore International Mediation Institute, which will accredit mediators.