[Interview] Daryl Chew speaks with CNA938 Singapore Today: The changing ADR landscape in light of the pandemic

Singapore has established itself as one of the leading alternative dispute centres in the world, alongside London and Hong Kong. How has the Alternative Dispute Resolution scene been affected by COVID-19?

Chairman of Maxwell Chambers, Daryl Chew, spoke with Melanie Oliverio and Lance Alexander, hosts of CNA 938 “Singapore Today”.

We summarise the key points from the interview.

  • How has the pandemic changed the alternative dispute resolution landscape and Singapore’s international role in ADR?

The pandemic has been a catalyst for change on many fronts. It has created an increased reliance on technology, the adoption of new tools, processes and mind-sets. All these changes have improved efficiency, through a reduction in time, cost and providing more flexibility for participants to align hearings across different time zones. There is also the impact on sustainability – with less travel, there is less carbon footprint and the increased use of electronic documents has reduced the need for hard paper copies.

In an environment characterized by pandemic concerns, a geo-political landscape that is more uncertain and volatile, increased polarisation and nationalism, businesses want their disputes to be resolved in a place that can offer security, stability and sustainability – reinforcing Singapore’s role as an international ADR hub.

First, Singapore offers a reliable healthcare system, a track record of containing the pandemic., Our judicial functions remain open and operational. We have stable Information Technology infrastructure to protect data and prevent cyber-attacks.

Second, Singapore’s good legal infrastructure is backed by clear and effective laws, providing a stable business environment. In addition, Singapore has been ranked as Asia’s top choice for cross-border disputes in multiple surveys.

Last, Singapore has embraced innovation and continuously invested in improving and meeting the needs of dispute resolution users. We are well-placed to serve as an innovation hub, and we must continue to work hard to improve and meet the needs of our users.

 

  • Your focus has been on energy and construction, just to name a couple. What disputes have been arising from these sectors due to Covid-19?  

The construction industry was badly hit, and the pandemic led to a widespread manpower crunch, disruptions and restrictions on operations and changes in the law. Many contracts could not be performed as planned, either because they became too expensive to perform, or simply because supplies were unavailable.

There has been increased disputes about payment, about delays, about delivering what was promised on time and budget. While things have stabilised on many fronts, commercial issues remain to be resolved.

However, one silver lining has emerged – many businesses appreciate the shared experiences about the pandemic, and are open to less confrontational forms of dispute resolutions including mediations. Parties are generally willing to try to resolve matters commercially while persevering the relationship.

 

  • How will AI change the ADR scene in the near future?

It will make ADR more efficient due to AI’s ability to process data in seconds resulting in time and cost savings. Lawyers can now focus more on strategy and other angles.

However, will AI one day replace lawyers or Judges?

It will be difficult for AI to replicate the core skills that makes an effective ADR practitioner – empathy, making judgements on complex evolving situations, factoring in emotions and trained psychology – these are skills that make us human, and cannot be represented in digits or formulas.

  • How has Maxwell Chambers been adapting to the changes due to the pandemic?

Maxwell has adapted quickly through technology, a personal touch and collaborations with international hearing centres.

Maxwell has invested in the latest video conferencing software, high-definition audio-visual equipment and state-of-the-art hearing rooms. We’ve worked closely with our partners providing ancillary services to improve the user experience. The personal touch and customer service of the team also ensures all aspects of hearing logistics are done seamlessly. On building bridges, we have developed collaborations with hearing centres internationally, through the development of the International Arbitration Centre Alliance (IACA).