The Singapore Convention : Decisions, Decisions

Bill Wood discusses the choice between opt-in and opt-out systems under the Singapore Convention

There is no mistaking the general excitement that has surrounded the recent signing of the Singapore Convention[1]. It is seen as recognition that mediation has now achieved such maturity and acceptance internationally that it deserves the status that arbitration has enjoyed since the New York Convention of 1959.

The place of signing is significant too. Singapore has again enthusiastically grasped the opportunity to brand itself as a new and dynamic international dispute resolution centre.

The Convention has been supported by the signatures of 46  countries including China and the United States. The UK along with the rest of the EU has remained aloof thus far. Indeed the Times recently speculated as to whether our abstention will diminish London’s standing as a forum for international disputes and damage trade generally [2].

Of course it is important to remember that no country has yet ratified.  When the moment of ratification comes countries will have an important choice to make. Article 8 of the Convention allows ratifying countries either to bring the Convention into law as an opt-in regime (where the parties expressly elect to submit to  the enforcement rules when settling) or as an opt-out (where the default setting is that the enforcement rules do apply). Paragraph 1(b) runs as follows:

            “1.  A party to the Convention may declare that

                        … (b) it shall apply this Convention only to the extent that the parties to the settlement agreement have agreed to the application of the Convention.”

There was understandably lengthy discussion of this clause during the drafting of the Convention and it is going to be an absolutely critical choice. Many of us have wondered whether at the moment of concluding a settlement parties will find opting-in an easy matter to agree. One assumes that in the average money dispute the paying party may not be enthusiastic about agreeing to grant his opponent supercharged enforcement powers.

It is easy to forget that because of Article 6 of the EU Mediation Directive EU countries have had similar enforcement  processes available for cross-border mediation settlements for some years now. Where a settlement “results from mediation” the parties, if they all agree, can apply to the court for a Mediation Settlement  Enforcement Order or MSEO[3]. When granted by the court this gives the settlement the enforcement statues of a judgment. Like the Singapore Convention it copes with situation  where proceedings have not yet been started and the parties do not have the option of enshrining their settlement in a consent award or judgment . (Unlike the Singapore Convention an application to the court is needed.)

This provision passed into law in 2011  but, to the best of my knowledge at least, it has disappeared utterly without trace. I have not heard it raised as an issue or  discussed by lawyers or  colleagues at any point in the eight years of its life to date and as far as I am aware no application for an MSEO has ever been made[4]. So much for an opt-in system.

Is the lesson of the MSEO  experience  that  Singapore Convention countries should choose an opt-out  system?

Or is another possible lesson that enforcement is not actually a major consideration and that concerns about enforcement are not in fact a significant brake on the advance of international mediation at all.

Parties mediating disputes post-litigation in England and Wales routinely agree “Tomlin orders”, consent orders embodying the settlement.  Pre-litigation parties cannot do so. Parties should not feel they have to start proceedings to get an enforceable deal. All perfectly rational.

But  in the long list of reasons that over the years I have heard given for parties being reluctant to move to mediation (“I don’t wish to appear weak”, “I don’t know what mediation is”, “Can I trust the mediator/the opposition to respect confidentiality” , “I don’t wish to appear weak”) I have to say I cannot remember hearing  enforcement worries mentioned.

The vast majority of commercial disputes whether domestic or international end in settlement. There is nothing about a mediated settlement as distinct from a negotiated settlement that makes it intrinsically more vulnerable to being disregarded. Where the parties in the negotiations which I facilitate have concerns about the other side’s willingness or ability to perform  that can be policed in the agreement. For example if a party has spent the mediation complaining of poverty and arguing that the case should settle because “there will be nothing left at the end of a trial” then the solution may be to make performance a condition subsequent to the agreement. If the defendant doesn’t pay the claimant’s claim revives.

The Singapore Convention is a welcome celebration of the arrival of mediation as a mature participant on the world stage and a  welcome celebration of Singapore itself. But as one observer wittily  put it: “I’m a huge fan of the Singapore convention, it’s all the stuff about enforcement I am not sure about ”.

How much practical effect the Convention is going to have will clearly  depend on choices yet to be made by the countries who ratify and the choices subsequently made by the parties themselves.


[1] The UN Convention on International Settlement Agreements resulting from Mediation.

[2] “Could the UK’s absence from the Singapore convention harm its post-Brexit prospects?” Times, 5th September 2019.

[3] CPR 78.24.

[4] If you have a drawer full of MSEOs in your litigation department please let me know; I will be delighted to publish a correction.

Paris: The Capital of Negotiation?

Paris has recently had a reputation for confrontation. But a hundred years ago  the allied powers (principally France, the US and Britain led by Clemenceau, Woodrow Wilson and Lloyd George respectively) were in Paris negotiating the Treaty of Versailles. Clemenceau had just survived an assassination attempt. He observed wryly that even after the greatest war in history a Frenchman had taken seven shots at him at close range and only hit him once: proof if it were needed that however dark the circumstances humour always has a role to play.

A hundred years on and the second weekend in February saw the international mediation community (including three of the Brick Court team) descend upon Paris for the festival of negotiation that is the ICC Mediation Competition. Law students from France, the US and Britain and upwards of thirty other countries from all across the globe descend to compete in a mediation moot. Professional mediators conduct the mediations and score the students’ performances.

Political references are still not far away: this year the running gag at the conference was the very notion that Brits should be teaching anybody about process design or negotiation.

The students are hugely enthusiastic and negotiate skilfully, always in English and often a long way from their native language.

They relish the co-operative style of working, clearly enjoying the change from the orthodox models offered in their professional training. Each team gets a confidential briefing setting out their party’s deeper interests and plans for the future. The problems usually offer some crock of gold in terms of future collaboration. One party turns out to have a warehouse full of size 8 left shoes. But wait: the other party has a warehouse full of size 8 right… well you can imagine. Always a win-win. It is great to have the chance of a happy ending and a refreshing change for the jaded ADR hacks who officiate.

And yet, and yet…. It can lead to a relentlessly collaborative approach that ignores the difficult issues and the hard exchanges. We all know that if you don’t acknowledge the anger/disappointment/affront /betrayal that has got you into the mediation you are going to be in trouble later; if you don’t let the monsters into the room they will wait outside and bite you later.

Back in the real world I often recall for parties the shortest opening statement that I have ever heard: three words, the first beginning with “F”, the second being “you”  and the third an anatomical term. As a statement of case it was not only more succinct than the sixteen pages of close contractual analysis offered on the other side, it also kick-started the negotiation far more effectively. Mediators would recognise immediately the opportunity that those words offered. We settled, admittedly at 10 pm. I don’t recommend the three-word approach as a formulation to get you into the finals in Paris. But, as the 2019 winners,  University of Auckland team,  clearly  grasped, some grit in the mix is essential. “This why I am angry. Why are you angry?”

As I sat in the departure lounge I contemplated the zero-sum mediation I was returning to conduct in London; claims on the  aviation insurance market arising from an air crash. Collaboration? Er…no. Future business? Um… with the airline in liquidation probably not.

Sitting at the gate I was surrounded by tired children wearing Micky Mouse ears and their even more tired parents, clearly a tremendous trip. They had all been to Disneyland.

Perhaps we all had.

Geoff Sharp, John Sturrock and Bill Wood attended the Paris competition.

Trick or Treat? It’s Directory Time

Ah vanitas vanitatum! Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? Or, having it, is satisfied?

Thackeray, Vanity Fair

Autumn is upon us, the clocks have gone back, mists and mellow fruitfulness prevail. And, fittingly, on Halloween itself the legal directories, TripAdvisor for the vexatious litigant, complete their 2018 editions.

Both halves of the profession are racked with anxiety in advance. As the polythene is torn off the books and the uploaded versions flicker on to the screen either fist pumps or a slight tremble of the lip will follow. Trick or treat?

Mediators, we have to admit, are not immune from this bonfire of the vanities. But the Brick Court Chambers team are pretty pleased with this year‘s harvest. Before we set out one two of the highlights (sorry!) we thought we would offer some pointers. We are keen to help the uninitiated appreciate the finer aspects a good directory entry.

  • Anybody who has run into Bill Wood in the last few months will not have escaped being told that he is (per Who’s Who Legal) the 2018 Mediator of the Year. They may be a touch surprised to see him described by Legal 500 this year as “immensely modest”.
  • Geoff Sharp, our New Zealand correspondent, has well and truly marked his increasing presence in London by crashing into Who’s Who Legal and Chambers at the first attempt.
  • Good news too for the indefatigable Tony Willis who this year has been spared ageist references to him being the “grandfather of mediation”, remarks that would have troubled a more flappable man.

We also enjoy the school report flavour that comes with the use of surnames.

Ruttle specialises in ships

Sturrock is the leading mediator in Scotland

Wood is in detention again

There seems to be a set vocabulary and there are clearly subtleties in the choice of epithet. The ones we like include “energetic” and “committed”.

We are less sure about some of the following (however well-intentioned);

“Hard-working” (bit of a plodder?) “Affable” (elderly? Under-prepared?) “Cerebral”(on another planet for most of the day?) “Puts clients at their ease” (likes to be loved and will not challenge even the most absurd aspects of your opponents case?). Enjoy!

John Sturrock QC

“He has tremendous presence and personality but his technical skills as a mediator are also excellent’ L500 2018

A “spellbinding mediator and great thinker”… “by far the best in the market” WWL 2018

“Singled out for praise by clients for his “relaxed, soft approach at outset” and yet for his ability to “still push hard to get a deal at the end of the day.” Chambers 2018

Geoff Sharp

“Leading mediator” in the field ….engaging manner, charm and intelligence” WWL 2018

“Really tenacious and determined to look at things from every angle to get the parties to talk” “He’s really sharp, asks the right questions, and knows when to intervene and when to give clients space” Chambers 2018

Stephen Ruttle QC

“always excellent” “outstanding” WWL 2018

“brings the experience that clients would expect from one of the top mediators in the business and clients are left impressed” L500 2018

a standout mediator who “is really on the ball. He can get into a party’s mind, find out what they care about, then get them over the line and find a resolution” Chambers 2018

Tony Willis

“A top practitioner in the market, specialising in commercial and regulatory disputes” WWL 2018

“… Has conducted over 1000 mediations” L500 2018

“Stands out among practitioners and clients for his tremendous experience” Chambers 2018

William Wood QC 

“The number-one mediator in the UK today” …”rare blend of good humour, professionalism and experience” WWL 2018

“Extraordinarily well-prepared”…. “such an effective mediator because he is extremely cerebral and, at the same time, immensely modest” L500 2018

“You always feel confident when he is there that a mediation will resolve” Chambers 2018

Our collective thanks to our referees who take time to answer the phone or return that researcher’s email and who continue to instruct us year in and year out.
We are very grateful.

Brick Court’s John Sturrock pulled it all together in Edinburgh this last week hosting the International Academy of Mediators’ spring meeting.

The best and brightest of the global mediation community gathered and even got their own tartan to mark the event!

A fantastic program was on offer including Bothy Supper Conversations at local Old Town restaurants and pubs – for more go to #iamedinburgh2018

 

 

http://brickcourtmediators.co.uk/449-2/

Aftercare, Chardonnay and Arizona

Sitting on a panel of mediators in front of an audience of US insurance lawyers last month the topic of mediation aftercare came up. The view on all sides was that when mediations do not settle on the day the mediator’s involvement in the days and weeks that follow is now routine and expected .

Parties expect the mediator to be in contact by phone and email, maybe even over coffee or in a reconvened smaller group. These exchanges can continue over weeks, even months. I have once or twice attended court in mid-trial just before the lunch adjournment at the invitation of the parties to meet them and try to break the deadlock.

Some counsel like a light touch, others want the mediator to push hard. Except in the few cases of truly angry termination (and sometimes even in those) aftercare is taken for granted

Why is it so productive? Companies and individuals can get painted into a corner on the day of the mediation. People get tired and frustrated. Big organisations can simply take time to process a new view of a case as they turn the proverbial super-tanker.

In the hour the panel took to address the conference (in Phoenix, Arizona) I received two text messages.

The first was an unremarkable inquiry from my daughter as to why there was no chardonnay in the fridge at home. But the second from the general counsel of a major media company read simply “Deal Done!”.  A potentially nasty trial between the organisation and its departing Chief Executive had been due to start the next working day. I had overseen an exchange of offers that morning in Phoenix (the afternoon in London) by telephone and email.

I would have punched the air but I was too busy being English.  Sometimes the aftercare seems to be more challenging and more rewarding than the surgery itself.