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Forced mediation should be last resort for feuding neighbours, say respondents

SINGAPORE — More than a year after the Government mooted the idea of mandating mediation for feuding neighbours, a six-week public consultation exercise has found that views are mixed as to whether this would be the best way forward, with some mediators consulted saying that mandatory mediation might undermine the ethos of such a process.

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SINGAPORE — More than a year after the Government mooted the idea of mandating mediation for feuding neighbours, a six-week public consultation exercise has found that views are mixed as to whether this would be the best way forward, with some mediators consulted saying that mandatory mediation might undermine the ethos of such a process.

And while a tribunal will be set up by the second half of this year to hear such cases before a judge, those who gave feedback felt adjudication should be the last resort and “upstream measures” are more important.

Releasing a summary of the responses collected, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) yesterday said it will be exploring “a suitable avenue of last resort” for residents who want adjudication for difficult cases and that it will also look into working with frontline agencies to see what can be done about anti-social behaviours.

The MCCY received 87 responses from the public consultation exercise, which was held from March 9 to April 21. Focus group discussions were also held last year with 400 participants, who included mediators with the Community Mediation Centre, community and grassroots leaders, as well as frontline officers from various government agencies.

Currently, disputing parties who cannot resolve their problems privately or with the help of grassroots leaders may be asked to approach a Community Mediation Centre. However, mediation is voluntary and parties may not attend.

Under the new tribunal — announced in March — a judge would hear cases and have the power to give orders and sanctions, as well as compel parties to attend formal mediation. Failure to do so could result in prosecution.

The MCCY said respondents felt a tribunal should be the “last resort”, and that views were mixed on mandating mediation. Those in favour of mandating mediation said the tribunal would be useful for bringing disputing parties together, but some trained mediators cautioned that mandatory mediation might undermine the ethos of the process and be abused by vindictive neighbours to punish another neighbour.

With respondents agreeing that “upstream measures” to resolve disputes early were important, the MCCY said this could include strengthening public education efforts and improving frontline responses.

Members of Parliament (MP) TODAY spoke to were supportive of the new tribunal and mandatory mediation, but said the concern of unreasonable neighbours using it to punish another neighbour was valid.

Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) said the legal framework could be reviewed to tighten regulations on anti-social behaviour, such as noise levels. “Many of the antisocial behaviour are not offences or illegal per se, so having mandatory mediation through a tribunal for parties to deal with such issues would be an effective way,” he added.

Mr Alex Yam (Chua Chu Kang GRC) suggested a two-step process of first allowing voluntary mediation for both parties before enforcing a mandatory session. If one party is vindictive in using the mandatory requirement, it is likely to be in the interest of the aggrieved party to come forward to defend him or herself, he said.

“Before it even gets to that stage, with a two-step process ... it is likely we avoid such a situation from happening too often.”

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