This was the speech delivered by the President at the launch of the Law Society NEDS (Neutral Evaluation and Determination Scheme) on 17 September, edited for the Law Gazette.
Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong SC,
Mr Chong Yee Leong, Chairman, ADR Committee,
Delegates of the Law Society Neutral Evaluation and Determination Forum,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning and welcome to the Law Society Neutral Evaluation and Determination Forum brought to you by the ADR Committee of the Law Society of Singapore.
To provide a fuller suite of ADR services for our members and the public at large, the ADR Committee of the Law Society of Singapore has devised and developed The Law Society Neutral Evaluation and Determination Scheme (LS NEDS Scheme). This will be officially launched at this Forum.
First, a snapshot of relevant history. Law Society Arbitration Scheme (LSAS) was first conceived in 2005 and launched more than a decade ago by our then ADR Committee on 1 August 2007 to address the growing demand for quick, user friendly and cost-effective arbitration to resolve civil and commercial disputes involving smaller quantum. Party autonomy applies including on choice of arbitrators. We have a pro bono variant of LSAS for sums in dispute that are not more than S$20,000.
At this Forum, the ADR Committee will also re-launch the LSAS by introducing the revised LawSoc Arbitration Rules which include, among other things, a new arbitration-mediation-arbitration procedure and an avenue for dedicated emergency interim relief. On the former, seasoned arbitration practitioners will be familiar with the Arb-Med-Arb Protocol. For the dedicated emergency interim relief, as the SIAC experience shows, the need for this can arise from a broad range of sectors such as shipping, distribution agreements, corporate joint ventures, general commercial agreements and construction disputes. The types of relief envisaged via the procedure include preservation orders, freezing orders, access to inspect a property, Mareva injunctions and general injunctive relief.
Last year, our Chief Justice launched the Law Society Mediation Scheme (LSMS) in March. Suffice to say that this mode has since proven popular for a similar genre of disputes as the LSAS. I have made 11 mediator appointments so far this year and counting.
For LS Arbitrators and Mediators present, this is only the beginning of your respective journeys as arbitrator and mediator. I hope you will continue to build your credentials strongly and continually upgrade your skills. Even as you whet your appetites through your first-hand experiences offered by the LS Schemes.
But today is not about Med and only partially about Arb. It is instead, principally about NE and ND. This nuanced, finessed offering completes and complements the trilogy of dispute resolution avenues for now. I have been personally enamoured by NE having seen this product at work in a case. I am perplexed at its under-utilization. This form of refereeing would go a long way in appropriate cases to narrow the issues and save costs and time. It could be a standalone magic bullet. But even if not, it may pave the way for softer ground in mediation or negotiation options. Singapore has the potential to build on the valuable thought leadership on NE building on the pioneering work of Magistrate Wayne Brazil’s Early Neutral Evaluation in the Northern District of California.
My tip for our practitioners who want to fully reap the benefits of potential NE and ND is to specialize, specialize, specialize. I believe with this launch, the potential is there for our lawyers to develop their niche expertise (in some cases via SAL’s Specialized Accreditation) as well as industry experience to be on top of your game and in demand. As specialists, you can distinguish yourselves strongly and sharply in your evaluation or determination whether binding or non-binding. This is the inevitability of the power of focus. The Law Society will do what we can to help you build your expertise and promote you.
The practical, cost-effective dispute resolution avenues I have outlined enable each of us practitioners to not only have a tool box but to sharpen those tools to bring out the right one for use in the right setting.
Congratulations once again to Chong Yee Leong and his ADR Committee for spearheading this niche contribution to the dispute resolution ecosystem!
I want to devote the next part of these welcome remarks to welcome our new Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong SC. This is his first occasion addressing the Singapore Bar. It is only fitting that, on behalf of the Law Society, we honour the man of the moment by sharing a snapshot of his own relevant history.
Edwin Tong read law at the National University of Singapore, graduating in 1994. After admission to the Singapore Bar, he joined Allen & Gledhill LLP staying loyal to the firm in which he made a partner and remained so until his appointment as SMS on 1 July this year. In A&G, he was concurrently the Co-Head of the Litigation and Dispute Resolution Department, and Head of the Restructuring & Insolvency practice. In 2015, he took silk. His banner headline case is of course well known to all of us even though it was an unusual foray for him to be lead counsel in a criminal case. But he was already a regular mainstay advocate at appellate and High Court levels on various landmark civil cases. These included the CA cases of Accent Delight  SGCA 45 (on discharge of Mareva Injunctions) and the five-judge Court of Appeal decision in the TT International case  5 SLR 1104 as well as the High Court decision in Pars Ram Brothers (Pte) Ltd (in creditors voluntary liquidation)  4 SLR 264 by Steven Chong J (as he then was) granting a declaration in favour of the defendants who could assert a security interest in the underlying stock which they financed.
Edwin was a member of both the Insolvency Law Review Committee and the Committee to Strengthen Singapore as an International Centre for Debt Restructuring that recommended significant change to the insolvency and restructuring laws that the Singapore Government accepted. He continues where he left off, picking up the threads of that in public service, even as we eagerly await the Omnibus insolvency legislation that is baking in the oven.
His seamless transition from legal practice to SMS for Law and Health evidences nothing short of a meteoric rise in politics having been elected as an MP of Moulmein Kallang GRC in the GE 2011. He had understudied well previously serving as the Deputy Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for the Ministries of Home Affairs and Law.
His time in public service has been short so far. Yet what has come across very strongly on the occasions that I have heard him are a sincere heart and a sharp mind.
The Bar has lost a top Senior Counsel who was on top of his game. But our loss is the nation’s gain. It seems to me that the sacrifices made by Mr Tong by giving up private practice to serve Singapore seems to have been overlooked by some members of the netizen community in a recent topic on Minister’s fees.
In closing, as a personal anecdote, I was personally struck by Edwin’s kind offer to serve as Counsel on the Defence Assist Scheme. This volunteering of legal assistance for a brother or sister in law in trouble is little known by lawyers. But it showed his heart for lawyers. I know he continues to have a heart for the Bar. He remains a friend of the Society even though not a member. He will always be one of us even though not a practitioner.