To commemorate the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Singapore Convention on Mediation, the Society of Mediation Professionals (Singapore) (“SMP”) sat down with the Chairperson of the Singapore Convention, Mrs Natalie Morris-Sharma (“Mrs Morris-Sharma”) for an hour-long chat over Zoom moderated by SMP chairperson, Mr Lim Tat, on the evening of 7 August 2020.
In a wide-ranging informal fire-side chat, Mrs Morris-Sharma, a Legal Service Officer in the Attorney-General’s Chambers who served prior stints as legal advisor to Singapore’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations and as Director of the International Legal Division in the Ministry of Law, shared not only her perspectives on the negotiations leading up to the Singapore Convention and how she saw the Convention’s development and ratification process moving forward, but also her own background and how she ended up serving as Chairperson of the Working Group responsible for the Singapore Convention.
The evening’s discussions kicked off with a conversation of the path that Mrs Morris-Sharma took in her educational and professional journey that eventually culminated in her role as Chairperson of the Working Group. She shared with the audience about her journey through law school at Cambridge University and New York University respectively (informed by her desire to deepen her understanding in international law), her long-standing passion for tap dancing, her family, and her work in the public service in the first few years of her professional career.
Mrs Morris-Sharma also shared about her exposure in the earlier years of her professional career to work at the United Nations and how she later got posted to the Permanent Mission to the United Nations as part of the Singapore delegation, which sparked her broader engagement in the United Nations. This eventually culminated in her election (by consensus) as Chairperson of UNCITRAL Working Group 2. Mrs Morris-Sharma also shared her challenges as Chairperson, including having to develop her own leadership style, ensuring that each of the delegations had their voices and perspectives heard and understood and making sure that the negotiations could progress swiftly even with the multitude of perspectives from the delegates around the world.
Mrs Morris-Sharma also shared on some of the challenges in harmonising laws across many jurisdictions, especially to bridge across the distinct models of common law and civil law, and how to harmonise the international legal regime to ensure there was a common understanding of how international mediation should be seen.
Mrs Morris-Sharma also shared some insights into how some of the challenges that came up during the course of negotiations were resolved, including how the “5-issue compromise” was eventually struck in February 2017 (as well as the practical challenges during the course of that negotiation in the main boardroom, including her decision to buy lunch for everyone so that the amicable and flowing negotiations taking place at the time could continue uninterrupted by a lunch break!) and how consensus was eventually arrived at with that discussion at the core, through the hard work of all of those who were around the table. Mrs Morris-Sharma also shared some of her thinking about how COVID-19 may feature in the journey of the Singapore Convention. Mrs Morris-Sharma also shared about how the existence of the Singapore Convention in the background (even in countries which have not ratified it) will likely serve to inform international norms of what mediation and mediated settlements are all about.
The evening’s discussion also featured an active Q&A segment involving questions from the audience comprising both Singapore-based and international mediators and mediation advocates (from as far as Hong Kong and Ecuador), on wide-ranging areas including her plans moving forward, how she gained an understanding of international mediation in order to effectively marshal the discussions in the Working Group and on how she sees the Singapore Convention and the mediation landscape moving forward. The session represented a wonderful way to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Singapore Convention and Singapore’s 55th birthday. The SMP thanks Mrs Morris-Sharma for taking the time to spending her Friday evening with us, and to those in attendance for contributing to the vibrant and wide-ranging discussion, especially during the Q&A segment.