Written Answer by Minister for Law, K Shanmugam, on Singapore Convention on Mediation
Mr Christopher de Souza, Member of Parliament for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC
To ask the Minister for Law (a) what is Singapore's contribution to the anticipated Singapore Convention on Mediation to be signed in August 2019; (b) how will the Convention be promoted; and (c) how is Singapore preparing the legal industry for it.
1. On 25 June 2018, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) at its 51st session in New York, decided to recommend to the 73rd United Nations General Assembly the following:
a. first, to adopt a United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation;
b. second, to authorise a signing ceremony for the Convention to be held as soon as practicable in 2019 in Singapore; and
c. third, for the Convention to be known as the “Singapore Convention on Mediation”.
The Commission also adopted the Model Law on International Commercial Mediation and International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation.
2. In recent years, mediation has become an increasingly popular means for resolving cross-border commercial disputes. Mediation is cost-effective, flexible and efficient. It is particularly attractive for businesses who wish to preserve relationships and leave open the possibility of working together in future. However, one oft-cited concern of mediation is the lack of enforceability, should one party later renege on his obligations. The Convention will address this concern. It will make it easier for businesses to enforce mediated settlement agreements, provide certainty to users, and facilitate international commerce.
3. Singapore will host the signing ceremony of the Convention in August next year. It will be the first UN treaty named after Singapore. This will put Singapore on the world map for our thought leadership.
4. Support for Singapore to host the signing of this significant Convention and for the Convention to be known as the “Singapore Convention on Mediation” at UNCITRAL was unanimous. This is a strong testament to Singapore’s leadership in international dispute resolution and Singapore’s contribution to the development of the Convention.
5. Singapore is today one of the leading cross-border dispute resolution centres in the world. We have a trusted legal system, with strong rule of law. We provide a complete suite of professional dispute resolution services to meet the varying needs of business, including litigation, arbitration and mediation. To this end, we have also set up Maxwell Chambers, the world’s first integrated dispute resolution complex.
6. As part of our efforts to strengthen the dispute resolution eco-system, Singapore has invested heavily in the development of international commercial mediation, including through building up institutions and updating our laws.
a. In 2014, we set up the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC) to provide international commercial mediation services and the Singapore International Mediation Institute (SIMI) to set standards for mediation and professionalise the sector.
b. In 2016, we set up the Singapore International Dispute Resolution Academy (SIDRA) to complement service and training with research, to develop Singapore thought leadership in negotiation and dispute resolution, including in mediation.
c. In 2017, the Singapore Parliament passed the Mediation Act to strengthen the enforceability of mediated settlement agreements in Singapore. In other words, we have already sought to address in Singapore the fundamental problem which the Convention seeks to overcome.
7. As part of this effort, Singapore also contributed directly to the development of the Convention at UNCITRAL. We had a multi-agency team which worked hard on this. The team included MinLaw representatives and local industry experts, all of whom played a big part in seeing to the outcome we have today. Over a period of about three years, the delegation worked on the terms of the Convention, negotiating and building consensus when there were different positions amongst member states, and taking steps to ensure that diverse interests were accommodated. This process was chaired by a Singaporean. Overall, our team at UNCITRAL was able to exercise thought leadership on various issues of differences which emerged over the course of negotiation, leading to a successful outcome.
8. While conclusion of the Convention would be a significant achievement, it is but the start of a long journey. Adoption will take time, as individual countries consider the implications of becoming parties to the Convention, get the support of various domestic stakeholders and make the necessary adjustments to enable implementation. When the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the New York Convention) was first adopted in 1958, it had 10 signatories. This year, as it marks its 60th anniversary, the New York Convention now covers close to 160 parties.
9. The Singapore Convention on Mediation will enter into force six months after three States have signed and ratified the Convention. We hope that a critical mass of like-minded countries can sign on to the Convention in the first instance when the Convention is open for signature in Singapore in August next year. Singapore will support UNCITRAL in its work to promote awareness of the Convention amongst member states. Singapore will also be happy to share our own expertise and experience supporting and developing international commercial mediation. We look forward to welcoming all interested States to Singapore to be the first signatories to the Convention.
10. Within Singapore, the next step is to ensure that we are “Singapore Convention-ready” in two ways: first, that our businesses are familiar with and competent in the use of mediation as another tool to handle commercial disputes; and second, that we have a good pool of practitioners who are capable of handling international commercial mediation and advising parties on its use. MinLaw will work with the industry and mediation institutions like the SIMC to conduct briefings to raise awareness of international commercial mediation, and to have available training in this area for interested corporate executives and legal practitioners.
11. The Singapore Convention on Mediation is a great opportunity for Singapore to further strengthen our reputation as an international dispute resolution hub and for our legal industry to play a greater role in this growth area. My Ministry looks forward to working closely with the legal industry to propagate the benefits of the Convention and the strengths of our dispute resolution services to ensure that the needs of international commercial businesses operating out of Singapore continue to be well-served.