46 countries sign the new Singapore Convention on mediated settlements

The Singapore Convention, more formally known as the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation, was signed today in Singapore by 46 countries – a record number of first-day signatories for a UN trade convention.

While not including the UK or any EU countries, the signatories do include the world’s two largest economies, China and the US.  (A full list of signatories is at the end of this post).

The aim of the Convention is to implement an international regime for the enforcement of settlement agreements reached through mediation, broadly akin to the 1958 New York Convention for the enforcement of arbitral awards.

The new Convention clearly has the potential to increase the attraction of mediation for international parties and to solidify its role as a reliable option for resolving cross-border commercial disputes, which courts around the world will recognise.   Many hope that it will achieve for mediation what the New York Convention has done for international arbitration.

Mediation and enforcement

The initiative stems from a concern that the use of mediation to resolve international disputes has been impeded by the fact that, unless a settlement reached via mediation is in the context of a pending arbitration and can be converted into an arbitral award,  parties can only enforce it in the same way as any other contract. That will usually involve bringing fresh proceedings for breach of contract.  In an international context, this can involve potentially difficult (and usually lengthy) processes to obtain a court judgment and then enforce it in a foreign jurisdiction.

In practice, enforcement of mediated settlements is rarely an issue (at least compared to litigation and arbitration) given that the terms are the result of a negotiated resolution reached through a voluntary process.  Having negotiated and documented a resolution through a formal process, commercial parties do for the most part tend to stick to it. Nevertheless, it does appear that the potential for difficulty if enforcement is required may account for at least some for the patchiness with which mediation has been embraced across different jurisdictions globally.

This is supported by our analysis of the data collected at the recent Global Pound Conference series. That project sought the views of thousands of dispute resolution stakeholders across the globe on various issues, including as to what would most improve commercial dispute resolution. In Asian jurisdictions, nearly two thirds of respondents said that the development that would be of most benefit would be  legislation to aid enforcement of settlement agreements, including those reached through mediation.  In other regions, this was seen as less pressing than other factors but still received substantial support.  The new Convention directly meets this call for regulation and certainty.

Accordingly, regardless of how many mediated settlements actually need to enforced under the Convention, simply the existence of such a global enforcement regime may provide the long-awaited boost to the global adoption of mediation by assuaging parties’ reservations in this regard – particularly in jurisdictions where commercial parties are currently less familiar with the process.

Considering the overall dispute resolution landscape, the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements and the new Hague Judgments Convention are designed to assist enforcement of court judgments internationally (although their practical impact to date has been limited). The New York Convention has of course hugely benefited international arbitration, with enforcement regarded as arbitration’s trump card.  In many ways, the Singapore Convention is the missing piece in the enforcement jigsaw.

When will the Singapore Convention apply?

The Convention applies to settlement agreements resulting from mediations resolving international commercial disputes. It seeks to give mediated settlement agreements bite by requiring member states to enforce such agreements if they meet the following criteria:

  1. The settlement agreement is “international” – meaning either: (i) at least two parties have their place of business in different countries or (ii) the country where the settlement agreement is to be performed, or the country with which the agreement is most closely connected, is different to the parties’ place of business
  2. The agreement is signed by the parties and “resulted from mediation”. Mediation is defined broadly as “a process, irrespective of the expression used or the basis upon which the process was carried out, whereby the parties attempt to reach an amicable settlement of their dispute with the assistance of a third person or persons (the “mediator”) lacking the authority to impose a solution upon the parties to the dispute”
  3. The agreement does not fall within the excluded category of settlement agreements (which includes agreements relating to consumer disputes, family, inheritance or employment law)
  4. None of the (limited) listed grounds to refuse enforcement applies

If a settlement agreement meets these criteria, each signatory state to the Convention (and its courts) must recognise and enforce the agreement in accordance with its own rules, without substantive review or fresh litigation.

This will aid enforcement against assets located in the signatory state and also the discharge of other remedies like specific performance or injunctions.  Conversely, if a dispute arises in a signatory state and a party claims it was already resolved by the agreement, the settlement agreement can be invoked to prove that the matter has already been resolved on those terms. That is, the Convention can be relied on as either a sword or a shield.

Next steps

It is understood that further states are planning to sign the Convention in the near future.  It will formally come into effect once the second formal step of ratification has been completed by at least three signatory states.

Its full impact, and in particular whether it will be as significant as the New York Convention, remains to be seen.  But the strong early uptake is a very promising indicator.    .

You can find our guidance on incorporating mediation into dispute resolution clauses, dispute avoidance and improving conflict management here.   And for guidance on preparing for and conducting mediations, see our series of ADR Practical Guides, here.

 

UPDATES:

  • For commentary on some of the Convention’s more interesting features,  see also the article by Jan O’Neill (Professional Support Lawyer, London)  published on the Practical Law Dispute Resolution Blog here.  This includes discussion of the ‘Article 8 reservation‘ which allows a state to join the Convention on the more limited basis that it will only enforce settlement agreements where the settling parties have specifically agreed that the Convention will apply. We understand (informally) that 2 of the 46 initial signatory states intend to exercise this reservation, although it can be exercised at any time by existing signatories.
  • Full list of signatories as at 7 August 2019: Afghanistan, Belarus, Benin, Brunei, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Fiji, Georgia, Grenada, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iran, Israel, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Montenegro, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Palau, Paraguay, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, USA, Uruguay, Venezuela.

 

Jan O'Neill
Jan O'Neill
Professional Support Lawyer, London
+44 20 7466 2202

Dispute resolution in Asia-Pacific: Parties seek efficient processes and enforceable outcomes

Following our report on the Global Pound Conference series, which brought together over 4000 stakeholders at 28 conferences worldwide, our analysis of the Asia Pacific results reveals different demands in Asia and Oceania.

Six Asia Pacific cities hosted conferences to assess how dispute resolution can be improved: Singapore; Hong Kong; Chandigarh, India; Bangkok, Thailand; Sydney, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand. Each conference addressed the demand side (commercial party perspectives on dispute resolution); the supply side (what advisers and providers are delivering to commercial parties); the key obstacles and challenges; and what needs to be addressed to effect change.

Region-wide, the data highlights that commercial parties want to use mediation and other ADR processes more, either alone or as an adjunct to adversarial proceedings. However, the data shows that the market is not responding adequately. As a result, mediation remains under-utilised, and actual use lags behind positive attitudes to it. Unless parties and their advisors actively take a different course (for example through inserting escalation clauses in contracts, actively proposing mediation at the point of dispute, or by following mandatory mediation protocols), there is likely to remain a perpetuation of the “same old processes” – litigation and arbitration.

Read more analysis of the Asia Pacific results on our Asia Disputes Notes blog here.

Herbert Smith Freehills launches latest Guide to Dispute Resolution in Asia Pacific

Dispute Resolution in AP

Please click here to preview this publication.  To request a copy of the guide, please email asia.publications@hsf.com.


Our updated Guide to Dispute Resolution in Asia Pacific aims to provide answers to some of the basic questions a party unfamiliar with a particular jurisdiction will wish to ask when facing the prospect of having to engage in a dispute resolution process in that jurisdiction (including at the stage of negotiating contracts, when deciding on the choice of law and whether to include jurisdiction or arbitration clauses in favour of a particular jurisdiction).

Amongst the range of topics addressed in the Guide, we asked local counsel whether parties to litigation or arbitration are required to consider or submit to ADR procedures before or during proceedings. We will feature the responses of the various jurisdictions in upcoming posts and cover our first five jurisdictions (Australia, Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong and India) below. 

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Launch of landmark global conference series on the future of dispute resolution

Herbert Smith Freehills is pleased to announce the launch of The Global Pound Conference (GPC) Series 2016-17.

The aim of this ambitious worldwide conference series is to build a global conversation about the current landscape of civil and commercial dispute resolution and how dispute resolution tools and institutions should respond to the needs of 21st century business.  In particular, it aims to gather standardised and actionable data on what users of dispute resolution mechanisms need and want and whether those needs are being met.

Over 25 countries worldwide have already committed to holding a GPC event, with more being added. The launch will take place at a two-day conference in Singapore on 17-18 March 2016 and the last event is scheduled to be held in London in July 2017.  Other cities will include Hong Kong, Paris, Dubai, Madrid, Sydney, New York and Frankfurt/Berlin.

The Series, which is being led by the International Mediation Institute (IMI), is being sponsored by Herbert Smith Freehills as well as other global partners: Shell,  AkzoNobel, the Beijing Arbitration Commission (BAC),  JAMS, and the International Centre for Dispute Resolution (ICDR). 

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Selling Mediation in the East

It is generally accepted that, while the use of mediation is on the rise globally, this trend is significantly more pronounced in the West than in Asia.   While the modern concept of formal mediation has of course been around for longer in the West, and has had more time to take hold, can this alone explain the disparity?  Or does the explanation lie at least partly in how mediation is ‘sold’ ?

Sean Izor, an associate in our Beijing and Hong Kong offices, examines this issue in an article recently published in the Asian Journal on Mediation.   In particular, he seeks to identify a number of broad cultural differences in the way individuals approach disputes generally and suggests that practitioners and proponents of mediation would do well to bear these in mind when seeking to communicate the benefits of mediation to Asian parties.

Read the article ‘Selling Mediation in the East – Is there an Asian Way?’ (© Singapore Mediation Centre. Originally published in [2013]  Asian Journal on Mediation, 1.  Reprinted with permission.)

India: mediation successful in 60% of Delhi court actions

A wide reaching study, spanning 2005-2012 has concluded that 60% of disputes heard in the mediation centres affiliated to the four Dehli courts (Tis Hazari, Karkardooma, Rohini and Dwarka) were resolved.  The statistics for Tis Hazari show that of the 26,608 cases lodged within the period, 26,096 were settled.

The concepts of mediation and conciliation were given official recognition in India by the Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996 and by the amendment of the Civil Procedure Code (CPC) in 1999. Since then, mediation has grown steadily, first as a recognised adjunct to arbitration. Now judges are quick to recognise mediation as a helpful mechanism for reducing case backlogs and delays, as these statistics demonstrate. Mediation is now a central tenet of India’s principal dispute resolution centres.

Supreme Court of India holds that mediation proceedings are confidential

On 7 January 2011 the Supreme Court of India, in the case of Moti Ram (D) Tr. LRs and Anr. Vs Ashok Kumar and Anr (Civic Appeal No. 1095 of 2008), held that mediation proceedings were confidential in nature, and that only an executed settlement agreement or alternatively a statement that the mediation proceedings were unsuccessful, should be provided to the court by the mediator. Continue reading

India – Delhi Mediation Centre joins Asian Mediation Association

A significant practical step in the development of ADR in India was evidenced in September 2008 by the Delhi Mediation Centre becoming the latest member of the Asian Mediation Association (AMA). This builds on a 2002 amendment to the Indian Civil Procedure Code which attempted to increase the number of mandatory references of litigants by the Indian courts to mediation, conciliation or arbitration proceedings, as well as incentivising such litigants to resolve their differences by refunding any prior court fees paid. Law Commission of India Report 222 dated April 2009 endorsed increased utilisation of the 2002 amendment and emphasised the need for speedy dispensation of justice through mediation and conciliation. Back to top