Monday, 10 March 2014

New Community Disputes Resolution Tribunal for neighbours at war to be set up

By Janice Tai, The Sunday Times, 9 Mar 2014

A new tribunal to deal with feuding neighbours who cannot settle their differences is expected to be set up in the second half of the year.

A judge will hear the cases and have the power to issue orders, such as to stop playing loud music after 11pm. Those who refuse to abide by the orders may end up being prosecuted.

The move, which was announced yesterday by Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong, will give much-needed bite to the current community dispute resolution system, which is voluntary.

"The need for legal recourse arises for some cases in which mediation does not work," he said at a cultural carnival at Boon Lay Community Club.

"The aggrieved party feels very frustrated and helpless because they do not know who to turn to and they are not getting peace in their homes."

Every year, there are more than 70,000 complaints to various government agencies about noise - residents' top peeve. Other common grouses include verbal abuse and the use of common corridor space.

Under the current framework, neighbours who cannot resolve disputes on their own or with the help of grassroots leaders can take the matter to a Community Mediation Centre (CMC).

But 60 per cent of the 1,500 applications for mediation that the CMC receives each year end up with one party refusing to show up. That means around 900 cases remain unresolved annually.

This was one of the key issues highlighted during discussions among related agencies, associations and community leaders since last May, when Mr Wong first proposed having a more robust framework.

The new tribunal will not only have powers to impose judgments and sanctions, but will also be able to order both parties to go for mediation if they have not already done so.

Similar to the Small Claims Tribunal, both parties will not be represented by lawyers, to keep costs down.

Further details will be revealed, following a six-week public consultation exercise starting today on the new framework.

However, Mr Wong also stressed that the tribunal is only meant to be the last resort.

The majority of cases should still be handled by mediation as it not only allows residents to come up with solutions acceptable to both sides, but also preserves relationships, he explained.

That is why the Ministry of Law, which oversees the CMC, intends to train more mediators and grassroots leaders.

It now has a pool of 150 mediators who successfully deal with about 70 per cent of CMC's 600 or so cases each year under the community framework. It handled 521 cases last year.

Dr Lim Lan Yuan, the only senior master mediator at the CMC, said he is seeing more people being aware of their rights and willing to go to court compared with the past, when people used to shy away from airing domestic issues.

Still, he believes warring neighbours should turn to the tribunal only when everything else fails.

"When you go to the tribunal, you lose the power to have a say in the outcome and it will be difficult to live with your neighbour in future as the goodwill is lost," said the 65-year-old, who has 25 years' experience in mediation.

Mr Anthony Samy, 78, another CMC mediator, said the new tribunal will change the way mediation is perceived.

"Some people think it's frivolous and don't turn up. Now, there is finally some bite to make them sit up."

Ms Christine Chew hopes the new tribunal will solve her problem. She claims that over the last three years, she has been having trouble sleeping because her neighbours at her private estate in Yio Chu Kang would blare loud music at 6am every morning and taunt her each time they see her.

"They didn't want to turn up for mediation and there was nothing I could do," said the 53-year-old housewife.

Those interested in giving their feedback can e-mail until April 21.

The public consultation paper is available at

* Proposed tribunal 'should be last resort for feuds'
Forced mediation draws mixed response from members of public
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2014

A TRIBUNAL that can force mediation between feuding neighbours should be used only as a last resort, say most of the 87 people who gave their views on it in a public consultation.

The new tribunal, which could be set up by the end of the year, involves a judge who will hear cases and has the power to issue orders, such as making someone stop playing loud music after 11pm, for example.

It is meant for the most difficult cases, and if orders are not followed, the party involved can be prosecuted.

But members of the public could not agree on whether the proposed tribunal should mandate mediation, said the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, which released the consultation findings yesterday.

Some felt it would be a good platform to bring disputing parties together. Said mediation consultant Aloysius Goh, 35: "Having a tribunal with mandatory mediation may lead to more conflicts being resolved amicably. Some people don't want to initiate mediation for fear of looking weak."

But others thought that making it mandatory went against the spirit of mediation, where both parties are supposed to come to a decision voluntarily. It could also be used by an unreasonable neighbour to punish another neighbour, they said.

Currently, neighbours who cannot resolve disagreements on their own or with the help of grassroots leaders can take the matter to a Community Mediation Centre (CMC). But this does not work very well. In 60 per cent of its 1,500 applications each year, one side does not even bother to show up.

The Government is studying the proposed system further.

Respondents also agreed that cultivating good relationships between neighbours was an important way of avoiding such mediation altogether. Ideas included having mobile hawker centres close to estates and getting neighbourhood committees to help residents move into their new homes.

Retiree Lau Kim Boo, 74, suggested forming interest groups among neighbours. He said: "When neighbours have established good relationships, they are more tolerant of one another and will take the step to talk things out when issues arise."

So the Government says it will focus on stepping up public education efforts to promote good neighbourliness.

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