Written Answer by Minister for Law, Mr K Shanmugam, to Parliamentary Question on Neighbour Disputes Arising from Second-Hand Cigarette Smoke Mediated Successfully in Past Two Years
04 Sep 2020 Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses
Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang (Member of Parliament for Nee Soon GRC)
To ask the Minister for Law in each of the past two years (a) how many cases of neighbour disputes arising from second-hand cigarette smoke have been mediated successfully by HDB; (b) how many cases have proceeded to the Community Mediation Centre and mediated successfully; (c) how many cases are filed with the Community Disputes Resolutions Tribunals; and (d) what is the extent of increase or decrease in the number of such cases after the start of the circuit breaker period.
In a densely populated state such as Singapore, disagreements between neighbours may arise. These include instances where second-hand cigarette smoke from one neighbour affects another. In some cases, neighbours are able to discuss such issues directly and resolve them amicably. Finding mutually acceptable solutions in this way strengthens neighbourly relations in the long run.
In instances where neighbours are unable to resolve the dispute themselves, the Government has created avenues to help neighbours work out their disagreements. While HDB officers do not themselves conduct mediation, the Community Mediation Centre (“CMC”) provides trained, neutral, mediators who can help neighbours arrive at mutually acceptable solutions. Mediation at the CMC is generally voluntary.
Between January 2019 and July 2020, 71 cases concerning second-hand cigarette smoke were registered with the CMC. During and after the circuit breaker, there was an increase in the number of disputes over cigarette smoke registered with the CMC, up from an average of 2 cases before, to 8 cases monthly. 70 out of the 71 cases registered were voluntary. To date, 9 cases have proceeded to mediation. 6 of these cases were successful. About two-thirds of the 71 cases did not proceed to mediation because one party either declined mediation or did not respond.
As mediation is generally voluntary, it has its limitations. As can be seen, despite the relatively high success rate of CMC mediations, the take up rate remains low. In some cases, parties may presume that the relationship has deteriorated so much that there is no point attempting to negotiate. Mediators also cannot make binding decisions; they can only help parties reach a mutual agreement. Some parties believe that it is better to skip mediation and go straight to the courts, in order to obtain a permanent, binding order, in their favour.
The Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals (“CDRT”) was established in 2015 as an avenue of last resort. A CDRT judge can require parties to attend mediation. If mediation is not successful, the dispute can also be litigated before the CDRT. Between January 2019 and July 2020, 25 claims relating to excessive smoke, caused by activities such as the burning of incense and cigarette smoking, were filed at the CDRT. There was no discernible shift in the number of claims filed with the CDRT during and after the circuit breaker.
The Government is mindful that even with the CMC and CDRT in place, there continues to be difficult cases that are not resolved and differences not reconciled.
It has been about 5 years since the community dispute resolution framework was launched. It is timely to review how we can strengthen it and make it more effective.
Last updated on 04 Sep 2020