Nine judiciaries launch global network to promote alternative dispute resolution

US, UK, Singapore, and Germany among those to sign up to Judicial Dispute Resolution Network

Singapore's Supreme Court building Shutterstock

Nine civil and common law judiciaries from across the globe have signed up to the International Judicial Dispute Resolution Network (JDRN), intended to encourage early and cost-effective resolution of court disputes. 

The network comprises judiciaries from Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, the UK and the US. 

Its stated aim is to promote the ‘early, amicable, cost-effective and fair resolution of court disputes  without the  need  for a  trial  through judge-led  management  of cases, twinned with the employment of Court Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) modalities.’ 

The network will provide a platform for judiciaries to share experiences and exchange ideas and expertise on using the judicial dispute resolution (JDR) process. 

It will also develop a set of standards and best practices to serve as a benchmark for the JDR process in jurisdictions which are keen to institutionalise it in their judicial systems. 

In his opening address at the network’s initial meeting earlier this week in Singapore, the Honourable the Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon of the Supreme Court of Singapore said he was “delighted that we now have, in the JDRN, a platform for the continued development and promotion of JDR practices”.

JDR is a pre-trial settlement process involving judges as settlement facilitators. A judge will meet the parties embroiled in litigation and their counsel to discuss the issues and settlement, and, if no settlement is reached, will give their non-binding opinion as to the result at trial. 

Menon said that JDR represents a paradigm shift “not just in our thinking on the judicial process, but also in our understanding of the judicial role”.

“The ultimate mission of the courts is not just to hear trials or decide cases – it is, more fundamentally, to do justice in each case, and to do so fairly, efficiently and with as little disruption to the parties’ relationship as far as possible,” he said, adding that: “If we accept this, it will follow that the judicial process should not be thought of purely in adjudicative terms. After all, adjudication is but one means of resolving a dispute.”

According to Menon, JDR requires judges to think of themselves not just as adjudicators but more broadly as problem solvers, actively managing cases at an early stage and tailoring the process to fit the dispute. 

“The JDR judge is open to the use of ADR techniques and is guided in their use by the values of proportionality and peacebuilding,” he said. 

Such an approach, Menon argued, facilitates better access to justice by reducing costs and enables holistic dispute resolution, which can help to repair relationships.

Work is already afoot in Singapore to implement JDR within the city-state’s judicial processes and its State Courts have institutionalised it to manage and resolve civil, community and relational disputes.

About 30% of the civil cases filed in the State Courts are subject to JDR, with more than 80% of those cases settled without trial. 

A survey of court users conducted by the State Courts in 2020 found that the vast majority (97%) said that the JDR process helped to keep legal costs at an affordable level, while 98% agreed it had contributed to early settlement of their case. 

News of the network’s launch comes as Singapore continues its rise as a global centre for arbitration. Last year it ranked jointly with London as the world’s favourite arbitration centre in a survey of more than 1,200 in-house lawyers, arbitrators and practitioners. 

Singapore's lawmakers have also moved to reinforce its status as a global disputes hub, with Singapore International Commercial Court launching a new technology, infrastructure and construction sector list last August to speed the resolution of complex disputes and publishing new court rules last December intended to more fairly and efficiently handle commercial cases. Last month the city-state’s parliament also approved reforms that will allow no-win, no-fee agreements in certain proceedings.

Local and international law firms have also moved to boost their disputes offering in Singapore. 

Arbitration boutique Three Crowns hired the head of Shearman & Sterling’s Singapore office, Daryl Chew, in February to open there, while last December leading Indian law firm Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas launched its first international office in the city-state offering Indian law advice across a range of practice areas including international arbitration.

And last October, prominent Singapore firm Oon & Bazul added three partners to its litigation and dispute resolution practice from local rivals Drew & Napier and Cavenagh Law.  

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