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'Sufficient evidence' needed for action to be taken against those smoking near windows, balconies in homes

'Sufficient evidence' needed for action to be taken against those smoking near windows, balconies in homes

File photo of a person holding a cigarette. (Photo: iStock)

SINGAPORE: If a resident wants to complain about a neighbour's secondhand smoke coming from near their balconies or windows, "bare allegations are insufficient", said the Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong in Parliament on Friday (Feb 18). 

As a Court of Law, the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunal (CDRT) requires a claimant to present "sufficient evidence" to show that their neighbour's excessive smoke and smell causes "unreasonable interference (to their) enjoyment or use of place of residence", he added.

Mr Tong was responding to Member of Parliament Louis Ng's (PAP - Nee Soon) question about the evidence needed to lodge such a complaint under section 4 of the Community Disputes Resolution Act 2015. 

He said the relevant evidence should point towards the source of interference, the type of interference, or its intensity and surrounding circumstances.

"Some examples include letters or contemporaneous messages which are exchanged between neighbours that may point to the source of the secondhand smoke, written records that set out the specific dates and times of the acts in question and also show an established pattern of smoking, and, if possible, photographs or video-recordings which capture the particular resident in the act of smoking," he added. 

"DIRECT, FRIENDLY DISCUSSIONS" SHOULD BE FIRST ATTEMPT

Mr Tong noted that filing a claim under the CDRT should be the "last resort".

Instead, the approach of the Community Dispute Management Framework (CDMF) should always be the "first attempt". This encourages neighbours to engage in "directly, friendly discussions" or mediation. 

"This approach emphasises communication and the building of relationships, in particular between neighbours, and recognises that a legalistic, litigious approach is not usually the best or most efficient way to resolve disputes in the community. And it is certainly not the first port of call," Mr Tong said. 

"This approach gives parties a better chance at reaching mutually acceptable solutions, in a fast and amicable manner, without escalating the dispute through the process of evidence-gathering or trading allegations."

Mr Tong highlighted that an inter-agency committee led by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth is reviewing the CDMF and studying a range of proposals. 

These include promoting neighbourliness as a way to reduce the likelihood of disputes arising in the first instance, and increasing the awareness and accessibility on the use of community mediation as the primary way to resolve disputes between neighbours.

Mr Ng subsequently asked how the Government was creating more awareness of the CDRT and CDMF, as well as how the whole process is made easier and more accessible to members of the public.

In response, Mr Tong highlighted the cost of the Community Mediation Centre. Individuals seeking mediation pay a one-time S$5 administrative fee per claim, regardless of the number of mediation sessions.

"Sometimes there are difficulties of course, getting both sides to come to mediation. That's, of course, understandable. And that's why the CDMF is looking at measures ... we are considering a range of options, including in some cases mandating mediation," he said. 

"In addition, if this matter escalates, and despite repeated attempts, there's no possibility of a consensual or friendly, amicable resolution ... then the resident (can) come to the CDRT. In that situation, obviously, the limitation is, in part that there must be substantial evidence – at least substantial to the extent that you've crossed the relevant threshold in a manner which I've explained just now."

However, Mr Tong said the tribunal will also look at the circumstances to consider the appropriateness of the remedy, bearing in mind the individual was smoking within the confines of their own home. 

"Obviously, you've got to find a balance between what you do in your own home and the impact that you might have on another individual trying to enjoy or have quiet enjoyment of his own home," he said. 

Source: CNA/gy(rw)

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