Adopting the peace approach to avoid litigation: the case of Goh Rosaline v Goh Lian Chyu and another

This article is a follow-up to our previous article on the Peace Approach and Children,. This was written by Nur Shukrina Bte Abdul Salam, an intern of OTP Law Corporation.

Apart from helping children go through the divorce process and reducing acrimony, the peace approach also reduces unnecessary litigation. This is done by diverting conflicts that can be settled through alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) to the relevant channels.

Courts can thus allocate their resources more efficiently and avoid being treated as a “boxing ring”, i.e. a place where sort out small differences between them whenever they wish.

In our view, one such instance where the peace approach could have been used is that of Goh Rosaline v Goh Lian Chyu and another [2019] SGHC 133.

Letting sleeping dogs lie

This case concerned a familial dispute between brother and sister. Their deceased mother had left a house to her ten children and grandson. The Plaintiff, who had moved out of the house when the Mother passed in 2002, wanted to move back in along with her dogs. The Defendant agreed that she had a right to move into the house, but he did not allow her to bring the dogs to stay with them.

Justice Choo Han Teck (“the Judge”) expressed his frustrations as to why this dispute was even brought to court in the first place. He emphasised that the court was “not where one goes to for permission to keep pets” and it was “not a dog licensing authority”. Yet, the court was forced to adjudicate on a frivolous matter simply because parties insisted on litigation instead of amicably mediating it out.

While the matter was resolved (the Plaintiff could bring her dogs to the house), it was the relationship between the parties that had suffered. As observed by the Judge himself, the parties would have torn each other apart, leaving the dogs as “the most benign occupants in the house”.

Moving forward

It is thus evident that the courts feel strongly against wasting resources, especially when forced to adjudicate on issues which could have been settled through other means.

Understandably, there will still be some cases litigation is impossible to avoid due to the irreparable breakdown of communication between parties. In those instances where litigation is necessary, the lawyers then take on the responsibility of setting the right tone. Not only should they behave respectfully towards one another, they should also attempt to facilitate peaceful proceedings where possible. This would help reduce the animosity between parties.

At PracticeForte, in line with our slogan “Building Peace, Building Expertise”, we are doing our part to adopt the peace approach when dealing with family disputes. We believe that in holding ourselves to the ethical standards expected of a lawyer, our expertise should include the ability to reduce acrimony, build peace, and keep peace, between our clients and the other party. Something as simple as keeping our letters respectful and amicable, instead of fighting fire with fire, can sometimes go a long way in re-building the peace between parties.

At the end of the day though, we are aware that the success of adopting the Peace Approach would still depend on the clients’ willingness to cooperate. Thus, there is still much that can be done in terms of encouraging clients themselves to maintain peace.

As was remarked by the court in the recent case of UUO v UUP [2019] SGFC 44 involving a divorce matter, “it is always easier to start a war and destroy than to heal and construct. The court can hope to heal, but only the parties themselves can help reconstruct.”

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