A common concern amongst people is that they have a debt that they wish to recover, but are worried about high legal costs. This is especially so when the debts or claims are relatively small, and in the range of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
To help clients keep their costs low, we sometimes recommend for them to pursue such claims at the Small Claims Tribunals of the State Courts of Singapore (SCT) instead of in Court.
Lawyers are not permitted to represent clients at the SCT, but there are some good reasons why you should still consult a lawyer before filing your claim.
What are the Small Claims Tribunals?
The Small Claims Tribunals are part of the State Courts of Singapore and were created to provide a fast and inexpensive forum for the resolution of smaller disputes. They are located at Level 1, State Courts No. 1 Havelock Square Singapore 059724 [view on Google Maps]. The telephone number is 6435 5946. More information can be found at their website https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/SmallClaims/Pages/GeneralInformation.aspx
What are kinds of claims that the SCT can determine?
The maximum claim that the SCT can hear is $10,000, although this can be raised to $20,000 if all parties are agreeable to it. It is also important to note that the claim must be filed in the SCT within one year from when the right to sue arose.
Some common claims are listed below:
- Claims relating to the sale of goods. For example, buying a household appliance.
- Claims relating to the provision of services such as engaging a private tutor.
- Claims in tort for damage caused to property. This includes claims for losses or expenses incurred by owners of property as a result of careless, reckless or improper acts by others. (not including claims for damage to property arising from a motor vehicle accident).
- Refund of motor vehicle deposits under the Consumer Fair Trading (Motor Vehicle Dealer Deposits) Regulations 2009.
- A contract relating to a lease of residential premises not exceeding 2 years. This excludes:
- Lease of industrial or commercial premises;
- License of any premises for any period of time;
- Claims for possession of the premises;
- Claims for reinstatement of orders; delivery orders, declaration of rights, reliefs against forfeiture.
Claims in the SCT are filed online at: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/CJTS/
So, why consult a lawyer?
The lawyer will be able to do the following things for you:
1. Assess the nature of the dispute between you and the party
If you are unsure as to whether you even have a claim, the lawyer will be able to advise you after you provide the relevant facts. The SCT may not always be the best forum to protect your interests.
2. Help you determine if your claim can be heard by the SCT
The SCT does not hear every kind of claim. The lawyer will be able to advise you if yours falls within the jurisdiction of the SCT so that you do not file a claim that will be rejected by the SCT.
3. Advise you on what documents you should prepare to support your claim to increase the chance of success
Your success in proving your claim will be dependent on the evidence that you are able to place before the SCT. The lawyer will advise you on the evidence, such as documents, photographs, etc, that you should prepare to support your claim.
4. Advise you on how to present your claims to the SCT
In presenting your claims to the SCT, you want to present your arguments and evidence in the most persuasive and easy to understand manner. You will want to strike the right balance between too little and too much information. The lawyer will be able to advise you on how this can be done.
What happens after you win?
If you are successful in proving your claim in the Small Claims Tribunal, they will make an order in your favour. Usually, this takes the form of a “money order”, which will state the amount that the other party has to pay you. However, very often this is only half the battle. Unless the other party pays up willingly, you will then need to enforce the money order of the SCT against the other party.
To enforce a money order, the following are the main options available to you:
1. Writ of Seizure and Sale
A writ of seizure and sale allows a court bailiff to enter the Judgment Debtor’s premises, and to seize and sell his movable property. The Judgment Debtor will then have 7 days to settle all payment owed to the Judgment Creditor. If payment is not made, the Judgment Creditor may apply to proceed with an auction sale of the seized items and recover the money from the sale.
2. Garnishee proceedings
A Garnishee Order obliges the garnishee to pay the Judgment Creditor instead of the Judgment Debtor. For example, if you know the other party’s bank account with DBS Bank, the garnishee order will allow you to seize the money in that account to pay to you (assuming that the bank account has sufficient money)
3. Examination of judgement debtor
This option allows you (or your lawyers) to examine the other party in Court under oath to find out what assets he possesses (e.g. bank accounts) which can be used to pay the judgment debt
As there will be cost implications with each attempt to enforce an order, a lawyer will be able to advise you on the best option to go for so that you do not waste money and time.
Appealing to High Courts
An SCT order is final and binding, but you can appeal to the High Court if (i) there is a question of law; and/or (ii) the claim was outside the Tribunals’ jurisdiction. As an appeal will involve various questions of law, it is recommended that you have a lawyer to represent you in the appeal proceedings.
Leave of the District Court is required for filing an appeal. You may apply for leave by completing the e-service “Application for leave to appeal” within 14 days from the date the tribunal order was made. If leave is granted, you may file a notice of appeal at the SCT to comment appeal proceedings in the High Court.