State Courts' Court Dispute Resolution Cluster (CDRC)
• Establishment of the CDRC
• Principles of Judge-led Dispute Resolution
• Types of Court Dispute Resolution (CDR) Modalities employed
• The Neutral Evaluation Process
• The Judicial Mediation Process
• The Conciliation Process
Establishment of the State Courts' Court Dispute Resolution Cluster (CDRC)
The State Courts' Court Dispute Resolution Cluster (CDRC) was established on 4 March 2015 by The Honourable the Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon. The CDRC employs a judge-led Court Dispute Resolution (CDR) process to ensure that cases in the State Courts are managed robustly. In addition to judge-led case management, the CDRC also conducts Neutral Evaluation, Judicial Mediation and Conciliation to facilitate the resolution of Civil, Criminal and Tribunal matters without trial
Prior to the establishment of the CDRC, all civil claims were referred to the Primary Dispute Resolution Centre for mediation. Magistrate's Complaints filed by individuals for minor criminal offences were referred for mediation in the State Courts' Crime Registry. These dispute resolution mechanisms which were formerly undertaken by the different Justice Divisions of the State Courts have been consolidated under the CDRC.
Principles of Judge-Led Dispute Resolution
The judge-led court dispute resolution (CDR) process at the CDRC is anchored by the following principles:
O – Ownership by the parties of the process
P – Proactive judge (through robust case management, neutral evaluation, mediation, conciliation and adjudication)
E – Enabling resolution
N – Neutrality of the judge
The dispute resolution modalities employed by the CDRC are:
F – Facilitate (through Judicial Mediation)
A – Adjudicate (through Case Management)
C – Conciliate (through Conciliation)
E – Evaluate (through Neutral Evaluation)
All motor accident, industrial accident and personal injury cases filed in the State Courts will be managed through the CDR process within 8 weeks of the filing of the memorandum of appearance by the defendant.
For other lower value civil claims of S$60,000 or less which are filed in the Magistrate's Court, parties will be referred to CDR either with their consent or by the Court if the Court is of the view that doing so would facilitate the resolution of the dispute between the parties. For civil claims between $60,000 and $250,000 which are filed in the District Court, a presumption of CDR applies and parties will be referred to the appropriate mode of CDR for their dispute unless they opt out.
Types of CDR Modalities Employed
The State Courts currently employs two main types of CDR modalities:
(a) Neutral Evaluation
(b) Judicial Mediation
Neutral Evaluation is a process in which the Judge reviews the case and provides an early assessment of the merits of the case. During Neutral Evaluation, the parties, with their respective lawyers, will present their case and the key evidence to the Judge, who will then provide his view of the parties' likelihood of success at trial.
Judicial mediation is a process by which the Judge-mediator, facilitates and guides the parties in negotiating a mutually acceptable settlement to their dispute. The Judge does not offer specific solutions for the dispute. Instead, he helps the parties to focus on finding their own solutions that meet their concerns.
Conciliation is a process by which a Judge-conciliator facilitates an agreement between the parties on an optimal solution for their dispute. The Judge-conciliator will guide, assist and encourage the parties to reach an optimal solution by actively suggesting measures or proposals that may resolve the issues in dispute. Ultimately, the decision as to whether to agree to a settlement of the dispute rests with the parties.
The Neutral Evaluation Process
Neutral Evaluation is provided by the CDRC for cases that have been filed in the State Courts. Neutral Evaluation is useful in cases with voluminous documents, where the parties have proffered conflicting expert opinions, where the case turns on a question of law, or where both parties feel they have a strong case and neither is willing to negotiate a settlement.
After a case has been referred for Neutral Evaluation, a preliminary conference between a Judge and the parties' lawyers will be scheduled. At this conference, the Judge will discuss with the lawyers the following matters:
- Whether affidavits of evidence-in-chief would be exchanged
- The factual and expert witnesses who will attend the Neutral Evaluation hearing
- The dates for the Neutral Evaluation hearing
- Whether the Neutral Evaluation will be undertaken on a binding or non-binding basis
- Any other matters that will facilitate the quick and economical conduct of the Neutral Evaluation
At the Neutral Evaluation hearing, the parties and their lawyers will present their respective cases and the available supporting evidence to one another and the Judge. The key witnesses on each side may be called to testify.
The Judge may, at any time during the Neutral Evaluation hearing, ask questions to probe or clarify any submission or evidence presented by the parties and their witnesses. Where suitable, the Judge would identify areas of agreement or disagreement. The parties would also be given the opportunity to make their respective submissions or arguments. After all presentations and evidence have been made or delivered, the Judge will give an assessment of the merits of the parties' case.
If the parties have agreed to proceed with the Neutral Evaluation on a binding basis, they will be required to record terms of settlement or a consent judgment on the basis of the Judge's assessment of the case. If the Neutral Evaluation was conducted on a non-binding basis, parties will be expected to use the Judge-evaluator's assessment in their negotiations towards a settlement of their dispute.
The Judicial Mediation Process
Judicial Mediation is provided by the CDRC for cases that have been filed in the State Courts.
At the preliminary meeting, the lawyers would brief the Judge-mediator on the facts of the dispute and the issues to be discussed during the mediation session.
This is followed by a joint meeting with all parties and their lawyers, where the Judge-mediator will introduce all parties to the mediation process. Each party will have the opportunity to speak about the dispute, and the Judge-mediator will facilitate a discussion on the issues.
If necessary, the Judge-mediator will hold separate meetings with either party, together with the respective lawyers. This is a time to discuss further matters and concerns with the Judge-mediator, and to explore possible solutions. What a party has shared with the Judge-mediator will not be disclosed to the other party unless the party allows the Judge-mediator to do so. Depending on the circumstances of each dispute, several of such meetings may take place.
Once all parties have reached an agreement, everyone will meet the Judge-mediator together with the lawyers to review and confirm the terms of settlement. These terms will be recorded before the Judge.
The Conciliation Process
Parties/counsel may opt for conciliation where this is considered appropriate for their case. Even where parties have opted for mediation, the Judge may apply conciliation at his discretion, depending on the needs of the parties, their relationship dynamics and the nature of the case.
Conciliation will be particularly helpful where one or both parties are unable to put forth constructive proposals to resolve the dispute or where parties have already attempted mediation with no positive outcome. For certain types of cases or where one or more parties are not legally represented, conciliation shall be the mode offered by CDRC. The Judge, as a figure of authority having legal expertise and an understanding of the parties' dispositions, together with the assistance of the lawyers (where the parties are represented), will take the lead and be pro-active in working out appropriate terms of settlement which the parties may wish to consider to resolve their dispute.