Written Answer by Minister for Law, K Shanmugam, on Resolution of Neighbour Disputes over Cigarette Smoke
Er Dr Lee Bee Wah, Member of Parliament for Nee Soon GRC
To ask the Minister for Law with regard to neighbour disputes concerning cigarette smoke (a) whether mediation can be made compulsory for all involved parties; (b) whether there is any follow-up to ensure respondents continue to adhere to the terms of a settlement; and (c) for those who do not proceed with mediation, how are these disputes typically resolved.
1. Community mediation is generally a voluntary process, and can be proceeded with only if both parties agree to mediate.
2. For cases that do not proceed with mediation, the parties may end up resolving their issues through other informal means. For example:
a. They have directly communicated with each other and arrived at a resolution; or
b. Grassroots or community leaders have assisted the parties to hold a conversation that leads to a satisfactory outcome for them.
3. However, for intractable cases where parties are unable to resolve their disputes by voluntary mediation or other informal means, the aggrieved party can file a case with the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals (CDRT) as a last resort. The CDRT judge can order the parties to attend mandatory mediation in the Courts or at the Community Mediation Centre (CMC), attend counselling or fix the case for hearing. Therefore, while community mediation is generally voluntary, an avenue of compulsory mediation does exist, and the failure to comply with the CDRT’s order to attend mediation may attract legal consequences. Where the CDRT judge, on hearing the parties, decides to make a Court Order, this order can entail the payment of damages, require a party to do or refrain from doing something (for example, take measures to prevent cigarette smoke from drifting into neighbouring units), or apologise. If a party breaches the Court Order, the other party can apply for a Special Direction to ensure compliance. A refusal to comply with a Special Direction may lead to, among other measures an Exclusion Order – this requires the non-compliant party to move out of his home.
4. Written settlements reached by parties through mediation at CMC are private contracts. These contracts are binding on both parties. The aggrieved party therefore has the option to enforce the agreement through civil proceedings. Alternatively, if the parties feel it may be useful, the CMC will offer parties another round of mediation at no further cost.