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Singapore reviewing whether court can order disputing parties to attend mediation

PARTIES involved in a dispute will have to attempt to seek an amicable resolution first before battling it out in court, according to a recommendation being reviewed by the Singapore government.

Another proposed change: if a court believes that both parties have not reasonably considered alternative dispute resolutions such as mediation or private settlements, it could order them to attend such resolutions.

These two proposed changes to promote alternative methods in lieu of legal proceedings are currently being reviewed by the Ministry of Law, said Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong in Parliament on Monday.

"We recognise that alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation can be a valuable tool in resolving disputes or providing a forum for parties to ventilate key issues," said Mr Tong, who was addressing a suggestion from Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir) of promoting mediation in place of litigation for commercial disputes.

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The ministry will decide how best to encourage the use of such alternative methods after considering feedback on these proposals, which were made by two committees convened by the Law Ministry and the judiciary respectively, he added.

The two committees had proposed a number of changes to enhance the court's efficiency and affordability, and public consultation on their proposals concluded on Jan 31 this year.

Necessary legislative amendments will be made later this year, he added.

Mr Tong also outlined the ministry's review of the probate and administration regime during the debate on his ministry's budget plans, in response to a request from Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) for an update.

Plans in the works include the Moments of Life digital portal to support Singaporeans with their estate management matters, said Mr Tong.

This portal, which is developed in conjunction with other ministries such as the Health Ministry, will have features such as a step-by-step guide on making wills and settling post-death estate matters, and a beta version of it will be released by the end of this year.

The ministry is also looking at ways to simplify estate administration processes for affected families, particularly for those involving smaller estates, he added.

Other new initiatives the ministry has undertaken include a skills development framework for the intellectual property sector, which is being helmed by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) and SkillsFuture Singapore.

This framework will provide comprehensive information on the career options, skills needed for various job roles, and the relevant training programmes in the growing intellectual property sector, said Mr Tong.

"This will aid in the upskilling of new entrants and existing IP professionals," he said in his reply to a query from Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) on what the ministry is doing to develop talent in the sector.

Also, on intellectual property issues, IPOS will be extending its current initiative to grant financial technology - or fintech - patents quicker in approximately six months instead of the usual two to four years, said Mr Tong.

This FinTech Fast Track initiative, which started last year, will be extended to April 25 next year, he added.

"All these measures work towards ensuring that our legal system meets the needs of all - whether it be the man on the streets or businesses - who call Singapore home."

THE STRAITS TIMES