Inconvenient Questions (IQ) Interview with George Lim SC, Chairman, SIMC

Posted in Insights

SIMC Chairman George Lim SC plays a key role in promoting mediation as the next game changer in dispute resolution, and positioning Singapore as a respected global business hub in the world.

In an honest, intimate interview with Inconvenient Questions (IQ)[1], he shares his passion for mediation and the growing reach of SIMC.

We reproduce some key points from the interview below. The full recording can be viewed here.

The world needs more peace.

IQ: Why do you do what you do?

GL: I’m a bit old-fashioned… When I was called to the bar in 1982, it was a privilege. For me, law should be used to serve people. It is calling, in a sense.

I got into mediation 23 years ago. When you mediate a case, and see parties to come to a resolution, shake hands at the end, it is so satisfying.

I’ve been doing this full-time for the last five years. I mediate 1-2 cases a week. My wife says this is the best decision I’ve made for myself.

IQ: Are you able to pay your bills?

GL: Oh yes. It is possible earn a living from mediation. I’ll probably earn more money doing litigation to be honest, but it is enough and money is not the main thing.

The point is, how do you get people to take ownership of their own dispute. The world needs more peace.

IQ: Tell us how mediation came about, perhaps a little bit of history?

GL: Mediation is very Asian. Disputes used to be resolved by [senior members of the community].

In the 1990s, a backlog of cases led to a decision to introduce mediation. It was not only to [reduce the number of pending cases], but also to help people resolve their own disputes.

In 1997 the Singapore Mediation Centre was set up; and thereafter, the Community Mediation Centre to help neighbours resolve disputes.

In 2013, a Working Group was appointed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and the Ministry of Law, and co-chaired by Mr Edwin Glasgow CBE QC and myself. With Asia seeing large volumes of international and intra-Asia trade, it is expected that there would be increased disputes. SIMC was established in 2014 following the recommendations of this Working group, to address these cross-border commercial disputes.

I think SIMC has earned the respect of many people.

IQ: Can you share with us a case study of a successful mediation?

GL: There was a construction matter with a dispute quantum of about S$5 million. The parties arrived [angry and abusive]. During the mediation, they [vented], but they also agreed to find a solution. At the end of the mediation, they were hugging. The case was resolved in a day, as is typical of mediations at SIMC.

In another a case that I mediated in Seoul under the auspices of SIMC, tensions were high. I purchased a tea pot from a Korean supermarket and began the mediation by serving TWG tea (a Singaporean brand) to all parties. I think that broke the ice. In the end, one party bought the shares of the other. They also agreed to retain the staff, which was a key mutual interest.

Everybody was happy. It was rewarding.

IQ: Do parties default on the settlement agreement? [Enforcement] has been one of the major issues surrounding mediation… how have we been able to get around that?

GL: In most cases, if you manage the mediation well, enforceability is not a problem. But in a fraction of the cases, there may be an issue – sometimes through no fault of anyone. In Singapore we have the Mediation Act 2017; if you have a mediated settlement agreement administered by an institution here, you can register it as a court order. So if there’s a problem, you can enforce it like a court order. We’ve solved that problem domestically but internationally it has always been a problem – the lack of a mechanism to enforce international mediated settlement agreement… Until the Singapore Convention on Mediation.

For me, mediation is a form of access to justice. For people who cannot afford long drawn battles in court, mediation is a way out. For me, it has transformed societies.

IQ: Can you tell us some of the achievements of the SIMC? Are you satisfied with where [SIMC] is now?

GL: I think [SIMC has] earned the respect of many people today. We are five years old, we are a not-for-profit focused on international commercial disputes. As a young organisation, it was not easy to get cases, I have to admit. [At the time of recording] we have administered 127 cases since we were established with a total dispute value of close to S$4 billion.

IQ: Can you tell us about the Singapore Convention on Mediation and what impact it has had on the world?

GL: In 2014, UNCITRAL decided to set up a working group to explore the possibility of an international convention on mediation [to enforce international settlement agreements].

There were 50 countries in the WG; they elected Singapore to chair the WG – an honour. We were fortunate to have Natalie Morris-Sharma as chair. I was part of the Singapore delegation along with Sharon Ong from the Ministry of Law.

It was not easy, having different people from different legal systems and backgrounds. But we cobbled this Convention together.

It was eventually signed on August 7, 2019. 46 countries signed, a record achievement for any international trade treaty. Signing is a show of support for the Convention. The USA, China and India have signed it, that’s fantastic. It is more than half the world’s population.

The Convention[2] is now in force, having been ratified/approved by six countries and we hope that more countries will come on board.

The impact has been fantastic. Countries that were once struggling with mediation have now come on board. For example, for many years India has been trying to get mediation [recognised]. Recently, the Chief Justice of India spoke in support of mediation. They are talking about [compulsory] pre-litigation mediation and now they are working on a mediation act. It has trickled down to the ground.

For me, mediation is a form of access to justice. For people who cannot afford long drawn battles in court, mediation is a way out. For me, it has transformed societies.

[1] Inconvenient Questions (IQ) is about creating an awakening through honest conversations with people who matter. It is made by Strategic Moves in collaboration with the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS).

[2] The Singapore Convention requires three countries to ratify to come into force. It has since come into force on 12 September 2020.

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