To ask the Minister for Law (a) whether he can provide details of a legal framework that can be instituted to deal with disputes between neighbours; and (b) how this framework can work alongside community mediation and the spirit of give-and-take amongst neighbours so that disputes can be first resolved with mutual understanding.
Thank you Sir.
I think members can agree that neighbour disputes are not infrequent. We live in close proximity, people cherish their quiet time, space and when that is infringed, disputes arise.
How should the law deal with such disputes? Should it deal with it at all? I think if an offence is committed, you can get prosecution, punishment meted out. If there are wrongful acts, you can get civil action, damages, injunction.
The trouble is the traditional legal framework may not always be the most appropriate or adequate. The legal process itself can be long drawn out. It’s adversarial in nature and it’s not often easy to get amicable solutions. The proceedings may themselves also not be the most cost effective to deal with day to day disputes between neighbours.
So if you want to think of an effective framework, it has to go beyond what is traditionally available in the law. I think one important component of our current framework is, of course, community mediation, where volunteers are trained as mediators. They try and bring parties together to reach a common understanding. The process is voluntary. A good rate of success – about 70% of the cases get successfully mediated and a few hundred cases have been mediated every year since 2009. The weakness or the drawback of mediation is that it’s voluntary, if one party does not want to come for the mediation, there’s not much you can do.
So, the question is, how can we improve on this framework as we go forward? I think it’s really at a very conceptual stage. We’re considering:
Strengthening the mediation process – where we get people to mediate their disputes, and then getting them to abide by the understandings that have been reached.
Second approach is to try and develop norms of conduct between neighbours, which need to be specific enough to be meaningful, but also take into account the complexities of urban life and that includes proximity.
And then, encourage the residents to abide by these norms, and introduce effective and properly calibrated sanctions if the norms are breached.
We are assessing whether these ideas are workable, feasible and will update the House.
I think you got to be realistic in that legislation and regulation can only do so much. Ultimately, the responsibility for creating a neighbourly and pleasant living environment lies with each individual.