Minister for Law K Shanmugam said that the fee for Small Claims Tribunal has to be paid but can be recovered or even deferred, if certain conditions are fulfilled.
This was written in response to the questions of Member of Parliament for MacPherson SMC, Tin Pei Ling.
Ms Tin has asked the Minister whether a claimant has to pay a fee to apply for the enforcement of a money order issued by the Small Claims Tribunal and, if so, how much. She also asked the Minister whether there are measures in place to help a low-income claimant defray this cost.
In his reply, the Minister wrote, “Legal costs for proceedings at the Small Claims Tribunals are kept low as the process is straightforward and parties appear in person,”
He stated that a money order issued by the Tribunals is deemed to be a Magistrates’ Court Order, and can be enforced through a Writ of Seizure and Sale (WSS).
The filing fee for a WSS to enforce the Tribunals’ order is to be paid by the claimant unless the Court orders otherwise. Currently, the filing fee is $80, which is about half the fee for a case filed under the Magistrates’ Court. In addition, there are other associated and ancillary fees, which may bring the total cost of enforcing the Tribunals’ Money Order to about $400 to $600.
“The claimant can recover these enforcement costs from the judgment debtor if the judgment debtor’s personal property is successfully seized and sold, and the proceeds of sale are sufficient to cover the costs incurred,” Mr Shanmugam wrote.
He further explained that the claimant may also apply to the Registrar of the State Courts to waive or defer the payment of such costs. The Registrar will consider all the relevant facts in the specific case, including the claimant’s financial circumstances, in deciding whether to waive or defer such fees. The claimant will not be charged a fee for making a waiver or deferment application, he wrote.
“The Legal Aid Bureau may also provide legal aid for the execution of a WSS, provided that the applicant satisfies the requisite means and merits tests,” Mr Shanmugam finished.
The Small Claims Tribunals are part of the State Courts of Singapore. The Tribunals were established on the 1 February 1985 to provide a quick and inexpensive forum for the resolution of small claims between consumers and suppliers.
The Tribunals have jurisdiction to hear claims not exceeding $10,000. Therefore, a claim cannot be split or divided to bring it within the Tribunals’ jurisdiction. Where the Claimant and the Respondent consent in writing, the jurisdiction can be raised to $20,000 (Memorandum of Consent).
However, few have had success with the Small Claims Tribunals as the court does not have sufficient power to compel settlement as seen in various cases of dispute between consumers and vendors.