Think Big – The Singapore International Mediation Centre

Posted in Insights July 24, 2015

“If I were a business man and I had a dispute, I would want it to be resolved as quickly and cost effectively as possible. If it’s an international dispute, usually parties will go for arbitration. And arbitration has its merits. But my question is; why not try mediation first? What have you got to lose?”*

One of the things I’ve learned about Singapore, is that the country does not shy away from bold measures to get where it wants to be. If it sees an opportunity, a plan is instantly masterminded and means are mobilized to efficiently secure the gain. Not much time is wasted on extended decision making procedures; it’s all about getting things done.

Another trait that characterizes Singapore, is ambition. Every self-respecting business, organisation or institute has a resonating mission and vision statement, often prominently on its website. The local swimming club, the church, the National University of Singapore (NUS), but also every university department, including the library. Bold words and a far horizon are not shunned; the focus is on development, innovation and growth.

The launch in November of 2014 of the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC) – which as of June 29th became a partner of the ADR Instituut – constitutes an excellent example of what can be accomplished when these two awe-commanding traits are combined.

International trade and investment in the South East Asian region has grown significantly in the past decade. And, of course, this increase of business transactions also implies a greater number of commercial disputes. Many of those disputes tend to get settled in arbitration, and it is not seldom that parties will opt for the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) as the host for those proceedings. In the past decade, Singapore has established itself as one of the world’s most preferred jurisdictions for international commercial arbitration.

In April of 2013, a little more than two years ago, Singapore’s authorities appointed a Working Group to explore how the country could acquire a similar position in the field of international commercial mediation. The Working Group’s report was presented a little more than six months later. Crudely summarized, its main recommendations pertained to (1.) the establishment of a professional body to set standards and provide accreditation for mediators; (2.) the establishment of an international mediation service provider, which would work closely with the SIAC and offer a quality panel of international mediators and experts, as well as ‘user centric innovative products and services’; and (3.) the enactment of a sturdy Mediation Act that would include a mechanism for enforcement.

It was largely done within a year. In November 2014, the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC) opened for business, ready to deliver top-notch mediation services in cross-border commercial disputes. At the same time the Singapore International Mediation Institute (SIMI) was brought to life, tasked with mediator accreditation, the development of mediation standards and innovative tools. Only the mediation legislation, the third of the Working Group’s recommendations, has yet to be implemented.

The SIMC is fully equipped to deliver on its promise of excellence. Its panel of mediators comprises an impressive list of illustrious names. Among these is the renowned Mr. William Ury, co-founder of Harvard’s ‘Program of Negotiation’. Anyone who has ever studied mediation or negotiation techniques is probably familiar with his works ‘Getting to Yes’ and ‘Getting past No’. However Mr. Ury also handled negotiations in ethnic conflicts in the Middle Ease, the former Soviet Union and the Balkan. I also recognized Mr. Sriram Panchu’s name on the list. I was much impressed by Mr. Panchu’s lectures at New York University School of Law, where in 2000 I studied for my LLM and Mr. Panchu taught as a ‘visiting scholar’. On his resume this period is, however, barely acknowledged with the phrase “lectured at law schools and several educational institutions”. Mr. Panchu is one of the founders of the Indian Centre for Mediation and Dispute Resolution and the Association of Indian Mediators.

The SIMC is based in Singapore’s Maxwell Chambers, the stately building that also houses the SIAC. One of the fruits of the neighbourly relation between the SIMC and the SIAC is the so-called ‘Arb-Med-Arb’ protocol. According to this protocol, a case submitted for arbitration will immediately be adjourned after commencement of the proceedings, in order to allow parties to try solve their matter in mediation. Should this attempt be successful, then the mediation agreement will be translated in an arbitral award, with all the associated benefits for international enforceability. If the mediation proves unsuccessful, then the arbitral procedure will be reopened to deal with the matter.

The quotes above and below this blog are Mr. George Lim’s. Mr. Lim was one of the two chairmen of the Working Group that conceived the SIMC, and he is currently one of the SIMC’s main promotors. He is a partner in a law firm that carries his name as well as a frequently solicited mediator, but he devotes all his extra time to development of the SIMC. He has no lack of vision, and his mission is evident. With an apparent passion he speaks about all the good that mediation can bring, and what the SIMC can offer to the international business community.

The ADR Instituut much appreciates its recent liaison with SIMC. In a Memorandum of Understanding that was signed last week, both institutions expressed their mutual intention to cooperate, and to explore the options for the development of joint initiatives. However, what is clear from the outset is that the SIMC has all the potential to significantly contribute to the establishment of mediation as a full-fledged and effective form of conflict resolution – and that is a mission the ADR Instituut wholly subscribes to.

“I’ve been a litigator for 32 years. I know what it’s like in court. But you know, [..] in court, we don’t always bring the best out of people. But in mediation, we do that. I think we really try to bring the best out of people.”*

*- Mr George Lim SC, Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Singapore International Mediation Centre.

Ms Henneke Brink
ADR Instituut, the Netherlands

The original post by the author can be accessed here.
The Dutch version of this blog was previously published on the website of the ADR Instituut.