Community Mediation Centres (CMC) play an important role as they provide a platform for practical and efficient resolution of community disputes in Singapore. Mediation that takes place at CMC is an informal and voluntary process that is led by voluntary mediators. In this article, I analyze the community mediation model of Singapore and its impact on the society.
Origin of Community Mediation in Singapore
The origin of CMC can be traced back to 1996 when an inter-agency committee was constituted by Professor S Jayakumar on how to explore the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) processes such as mediation in Singapore. Pursuant to the recommendation of the committee that was headed by Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee (then Senior Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Law), the Community Mediation Centres Act was drafted and enacted as law in 1998. This in itself is a huge accomplishment as not many nations around the world have a legislation dedicated to creation of centres for community mediation. This is also a testament of Singapore’s visionary leadership in providing for infrastructure for efficient resolution of disputes.
Community Mediation Centres Act 1997 (CMC Act)
As highlighted above, this legislation is unique as it aims to provide a platform for resolution of disputes that can benefit the society. The Act has defined mediation broadly under Section 2 and it includes “the undertaking of any activity for the purpose of promoting the discussion and settlement of disputes”. Also, the mediation session has been defined under Section 2 to mean “a meeting in accordance with this Act between 2 or more parties who are in dispute on any matter”. Section 10 of the CMC Act that refers to “Conduct of mediation sessions” states that Mediation sessions must be conducted with as little formality and technicality, and with as much expedition, as possible”. This provision ensures that the parties don’t suffer because of formal or technical terms and provisions. A simple reading of the CMC Act will highlight that it has been drafted keeping in mind the comfort of the parties.
Disputes that can be referred to the Community Mediation Centre
As per Section 11 of the CMC Act, disputes concerning family, social or community dispute that do not involve a seizable offence under any written law. CMC mediation is suitable for disputes between co-workers, neighbours, family members, friends, landlord, co-tenants or other kinds of inter-personal matters. A party can approach CMC for mediation for a matter concerning littering or even dripping of water from laundry. In essence, CMC provides a platform for mediation of common set of social or community disputes. It has been highlighted that disputes that involve legal, contractual or commercial issues are not suitable for mediation at CMC.
Voluntary nature of the mediation process
At the core of the mediation at CMC is the voluntary nature of the process. Both the applicant (the individual that has requested the mediation) and the respondent (the other party) will have to be present during the mediation. Once a party applies for mediation, if the other party agrees, the CMC will arrange for a date and time for the mediation session to take place.
Highly subsidized public service
The mediation at CMC is a highly subsidized public service. The administrative fee is S$ 5 (USD $3.7) which is payable only by the person requesting for the mediation. The fee is payable on the day of the mediation. Moreover, that is the fee payable irrespective of how many sessions it takes during the mediation process. The fee for mediation is highly subsidized and as highlighted earlier, it showcases how CMC has been established to provide expedient resolution of community disputes. Moreover, the administrative fee has been kept low so as to encourage parties to opt for mediation. Instead of pursuing a legal action, the parties can approach the CMC in the first place for resolution of disputes as it is not only expedient but also convenient.
Mediators at CMC
The mediators at CMC are actually volunteers from different professions and walks of life. The volunteers are trained and appointed for tenure by the Ministry of Law (Singapore) and the mediators undergo the following process – application, selection, assessment, apprenticeship and appointment. As the mediators are volunteers, they are not paid for their duties. Also, the mediators have to be a Singapore Citizen or Permanent Resident, aged 30 years or above. The minimum accreditation the mediator needs to have is Level 1 Accreditation of the Singapore International Mediation Institute (SIMI).
Impact of Community Mediation in Singapore
Community Mediation in Singapore provides access to mediation to all members of the society for a fee of S$ 5. This creates awareness about the importance of process of mediation. As individuals from all walks of life have access to the subsidized public service, it educates and prepares them to opt for mediation while resolving their disputes. As a model, the CMCs in Singapore instill confidence in the public about the relevance of the process of mediation and its impact in the long run. The CMCs impact at the lowest level prepares the members of the society to consider mediation as their dispute advances in the juridical infrastructure in Singapore. Moreover, the mediators at CMCs are trained to support the mediation infrastructure envisaged by the CMC Act.