More turn to mediation centre to settle spats

More turn to mediation centre to settle spats
Mr Loong Seng Onn, Executive Director of Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC).

MORE people are going for mediation in place of lawsuits to solve disputes as it saves them time and hefty legal costs and gives them a say in the outcome.

Last year, the Singapore Mediation Centre saw its highest number of cases mediated since its inception in 1997. A total of 337 cases were resolved through mediation, more than double the number in 2012.

"Mediation has gained much traction with businesses and individuals, especially when they realise the amount of costs and time they save by settling disagreements out of court," said the centre's executive director, Mr Loong Seng Onn.

"As awareness of mediation and its benefits spreads, we expect more businesses to choose mediation as a means of conflict resolution."

During mediation, a neutral person works with feuding parties to resolve their differences. The people involved make their own decisions, usually with the help of their lawyers.

A subsidiary of government agency Singapore Academy of Law, the centre helps with a variety of disputes but tends to deal with bigger cases such as commercial ones.

Last year, disputes on construction matters rose by 75 per cent from the previous year. Disputes brought up by companies or shareholders and disagreements over the sale and supply of goods and services also saw significant increases.

"My clients from the construction industry generally prefer to have their cases mediated as the cases are held on a confidential basis and can have very much faster results than going to the courts," said lawyer Lawrence Tan, a partner at Eldan Law.

"The quick resolution of disputes through mediation will enable my clients to focus their energies on the next project. Earning new money can be better than fighting over old money," he added.

For instance, a trial can drag on for weeks and cost each party $100,000 or more in legal fees and hiring expert witnesses, lawyers said. Mediation usually costs less than $10,000.

Said Mr Kevin Kwek, director at Legal Solutions LLC, who handled a banking dispute: "By going through mediation, my client saved at least $400,000 in legal and court fees, along with a lot of time and mental stress that is usually associated with a trial."

Parties who go to the centre to mediate have a three-in-four chance of settling their disputes. More than 90 per cent of the centre's successful cases were resolved in a day.

One of the cases that saved significant resources by employing mediation was a dispute between the management corporation of a condominium and its developer and contractors.

The corporation started legal action against them after cracks on the carpark floor surfaced and water began to accumulate on the driveways, among other issues.

The contractors felt these were due to wear and tear over time and inadequate maintenance of the property.

After mediation, the developer and contractors agreed to pay the corporation $560,000, avoiding a 20-day trial that was initially scheduled. The amount contested at first was $2.6 million.

This article was first published on 29 Jan, 2015.
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