Public Consultation on the proposed introduction of a Community Dispute Resolution Tribunals Act and a new right to seek remedies to protect enjoyment of one’s residence
10 Nov 2014 to 30 Nov 2014
When disputes arise between neighbours, they are often difficult to untangle. Tensions rise as anti-social acts cause frustration on a daily basis. Some people may also have unreasonable expectations of their neighbours.
When such problems arise, neighbours should resolve their disputes by negotiating a mutually acceptable compromise. However, some people may require a little more help than others to resolve their dispute. In these situations, it may be useful if a neutral party adjudicated on the dispute.
Today, we could file a Magistrate’s Complaint with the State Courts to initiate criminal proceedings against our neighbour if a criminal offence is involved. In some cases, we may also file a civil suit. However, filing a court case should be seen as a last resort as the process can be costly and time consuming. Furthermore, taking our neighbours to court is likely to permanently damage relations with someone who may continue to live right beside us. Often, the sense of community in the broader neighbourhood suffers when such disputes are brought to court, more so when it becomes widely reported in the media.
For these reasons, neighbours should try to resolve matters amicably among themselves and if they cannot do so, mediation should be the preferred means of addressing difficult disputes. However, to deal with extreme cases, when all attempts to seek a mediated solution have failed, there appears to be need for a tribunal to provide affordable adjudication.
A public consultation was conducted from 9 March to 21 April 2014 to seek views on how to encourage good neighbourliness and to improve the management of disputes between neighbours. A majority of respondents supported having a tribunal as a last resort where other means of intervention have been attempted and failed.
A Community Dispute Resolution Tribunals Bill has been drafted to create Community Dispute Resolution Tribunals. The Tribunal will have customised processes to resolve community disputes. The Civil Law (Amendment) Bill will also establish a new cause of action that will give a person the right to seek remedies for disturbances and interferences with the enjoyment of his residence.
- New Community Dispute Resolution Tribunals
Emphasis on mediation
- In order to encourage parties to resolve their differences amicably, the applicant must first attempt mediation with the respondent before a Tribunal case can be started. Even after a case has started, the Registrar can order the parties to attend a pre-hearing mediation. Any settlement reached at this stage can be recorded as a consent order of the Tribunal, which can then be enforced accordingly.
Characteristics of Tribunal hearings
- Pre-hearing processes will be kept minimal so that hearings can be fixed before the Tribunal quickly. This is unlike normal civil proceedings where there are generally more interlocutory processes.
- Tribunal hearings will be judge-led and kept informal. Lawyers will not be permitted to represent the parties unless both parties agree to it, and the Registrar or Tribunal permits it. The Tribunal will not be bound by the traditional rules of evidence. Court procedure will be simple to understand and streamlined. This will encourage frank discussion between the parties and help keep costs low.
- Only claims relating to the new cause of action can be brought to the Tribunal. Given the simplified nature of the proceedings, it would not be appropriate for the Tribunal to hear disputes involving other kinds of claims, such as nuisance, which should be brought before the normal civil courts.
- Due to the informal nature of hearings, this will not be a suitable forum for complicated claims where large sums of money are involved or where there are different types of damages being claimed. There will therefore be a cap of $20,000 on the amount of monetary damages the Tribunal can award.
- The Tribunal can order a person to do or refrain from doing the act that is interfering with his neighbour’s enjoyment of property (e.g. an order that items placed on the common corridor be removed; no loud music to be played between stipulated times).
- There will only be limited provision for appealing against the decision of the Tribunal, and only when the appellant has obtained the permission of the court. This promotes finality and avoids the high costs that may be incurred through appeals. This is similar to the position for decisions of the Small Claims Tribunal.
- New right to seek remedies to protect enjoyment of residence
- Currently, there are various common law and statutory causes of action that a person can avail himself to when he has a dispute with his neighbour relating to the enjoyment of his property. The availability of some of these remedies could also depend on the type of property a person resides in. For example, the recourse available to a person residing in a HDB flat governed by the Town Councils Act would be different from the recourse available to a person residing in a condominium unit governed by the Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act.
- We propose to introduce a new cause of action that will give a person the right to seek remedies for disturbances and interferences with the enjoyment of his residence. The Civil Law (Amendment) Bill describes the provisions and examples of such behaviour. This new cause of action would not be dependent on the type of property a person resides in.
Types of disputes covered
- New provisions will be introduced to establish that a person’s enjoyment of his residence should not be disturbed or interfered with by his neighbour. This would include disputes relating to the following:
- causing excessive noise, smell, light or vibration;
- littering at or near the person’s place of residence;
- obstructing the person’s place of residence;
- interfering with the person or the person’s property, at or near the person’s place of residence; and
- communication with or surveillance on a person or the person’s property at or near the person’s place of residence.
- A person whose enjoyment of his residence has been disturbed or interfered with may bring civil proceedings against the neighbour either in the Tribunal or other civil courts.
Types of court orders
- If the court is satisfied that there has been disturbance to or interference with a person’s enjoyment of his place of residence, the court can make one or more of the following orders (or decline to make any order):
- an order for the neighbour to pay damages or compensation;
- an order for the neighbour to refrain from doing anything;
- an order for the neighbour to do something;
- an order that the neighbour provide an apology to the person;
- any other order as may be necessary to give effect to any of the court’s orders.
- In deciding on the appropriate order, the court will factor in considerations such as the impact the order could have on any person who stays with the neighbour, as well as the ordinary circumstances of daily living in Singapore that should reasonably be expected to be tolerated.
- Where the neighbour is below 16 and staying with his parent or guardian, the court will make an order against the parent or guardian as well.
Enforcement of court orders
- If the neighbour breaches a court order in relation to the statutory tort, the person in whose favour the order is given may enforce the court order through the normal civil enforcement route.
- Breach of the court order can result in criminal liability. If the person proves on a balance of probabilities that the neighbour has breached the order once, the Tribunal will first issue a direction for the neighbour to comply with the order. It is a criminal offence for the neighbour to breach the court order and direction.
- Invitation for feedback
- Members of the public are invited to share their views on the draft Bills. The consultation period is from 10 November 2014 to 30 November 2014. Views and suggestions may be submitted in electronic form or hard copy form to:
Legal Policy Division, Ministry of Law
100 High Street
#08-02, The Treasury
Fax: 6332 8842
Annex A: Draft Community Dispute Resolution Tribunals Bill 2015 (0.17MB)
Annex B: Draft Civil Law (Amendment) Bill 2015 (0.09MB)
Last updated on 10 Nov 2014