Stricter mediation for disputes
In the past, disputing parties could choose to ignore the agreement they signed during community mediation with little consequence.
With the new Community Disputes Resolution Bill, a special tribunal can impose court orders on parties to resolve the dispute.
A repeated breach of such orders can result in criminal liability, according to a fact sheet from the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.
Both parties are also compelled to turn up for the tribunal, said its Minister, Mr Lawrence Wong.
"The Tribunals will be an avenue of last resort to adjudicate long-standing, difficult community disputes where other efforts at resolution have failed," he said in Parliament yesterday.
Thirty per cent of cases at the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) remain unresolved.
The centre also sees a 60 per cent no-show rate - parties fail to attend about 900 out of 1,500 cases seen by CMC every year.
Said Mr Wong: "Living in close proximity with our neighbours can heighten sensitivity towards disturbances, such as noise, smells and what we perceive to be inconsiderate use of public spaces like the common corridor.
"These tensions could easily sour relations between neighbours, even when there are attempts to talk through the issues."
Lawyers and community mediators welcomed the new Bill.
Community mediator Jamunarani Manunethi, 53, said: "If one party refuses to turn up, there is no point for mediation.
"It should be a compulsory thing. Just meeting and talking about them together can solve many problems."
She mediates up to two cases every month at the CMC, and has been doing so for 15 years.
Madam Jamunarani has been in situations where a "solved" case came back to her because one party did not honour the signed agreement.
Lawyer Gloria James said she is in favour of the new tribunal as "it is clearly driven to meet and keep harmony".
Lawyer Steven Lam agreed, saying that if a failed mediation is taken to the courts, it's a "prohibitive cost to both parties and doesn't benefit anyone."