Small Claims Tribunal In Singapore: What You Need to Know

by | Aug 14, 2023 | Blog

Navigating legal disputes can often be an arduous and expensive process. However, in Singapore, individuals and small businesses can access a more efficient and cost-effective alternative through the Small Claims Tribunal (SCT).

The SCT serves as a vital avenue for resolving minor civil disputes promptly and without the burden of exorbitant legal fees. If you find yourself entangled in a small tribunal claim, gaining a comprehensive understanding of the workings of the SCT becomes paramount in your quest for a fair resolution.

This article will delve into the intricacies of small tribunal claims in Singapore, providing you with the knowledge and insights necessary to navigate the process effectively. By equipping yourself with the right information, you can confidently pursue justice while saving valuable time and resources.

Table of Contents

Understanding Small Tribunal Claims

Definition And Scope Of Small Tribunal Claims

In Singapore little claims and disputes fall under the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Tribunals (SCT), which is part of Singapore’s State Courts. The SCT’s primary objective is to provide a quick, inexpensive, and informal avenue for consumers and traders to resolve disputes.

These disputes usually involve small amounts, hence the name. As of the latest amendment, the SCT can hear claims up to $20,000 or $30,000 if all parties agree in writing.

Different Types Of Claims Eligible For The Small Claims Process

Not all types of claims can be heard by the SCT. The claims that can be heard include those related to contracts for the sale of goods or provision of services and rental of residential properties where the monthly rent does not exceed $20,000 or $30,000 if both parties agree in writing.

It’s worth noting that employment disputes or claims involving the government are outside the jurisdiction of the SCT.

Key Benefits Of Pursuing Small Tribunal Claims

The key advantage of the SCT is its simplicity and affordability. The process has been designed to be user-friendly for individuals with no legal background. Proceedings at the SCT are relatively informal, and people are encouraged to represent themselves, reducing the need for costly legal representation. Furthermore, the SCT is designed to adjudicate and resolve disputes swiftly, allowing parties to save time.

Initiating A Small Tribunal Claim

Preparing The Necessary Documents And Evidence

Like all legal proceedings, a small tribunal claim starts with thorough preparation. You’ll need to compile all pertinent documents, such as written contracts, invoices, receipts, photographs, emails, and any other material that could substantiate your claim. The importance of this step must be considered; the success of your case may hinge on the quality of your documentary evidence.

Filing The Claim With The Small Claims Tribunal

Once you’ve gathered all your evidence, the next step is to lodge your claim with the SCT formally. This is done by filling out a prescribed form known as the ‘Claim Form’.

The form requires you to provide detailed information about your claim, including the parties’ identities, the nature of the dispute, the amount claimed, and the relief sought. The form and a small filing fee are then submitted to the SCT’s office.

Overview Of The Filing Fee And Timeline For Processing

The filing fee for a small tribunal claim varies between $10 to $60, depending on the amount claimed. This fee is nominal compared to the legal costs associated with court litigation. After filing your claim, the tribunal will set a consultation date within ten working days. This swift timeline ensures that parties can resolve their disputes quickly.

The Small Claims Tribunal Process

Mediation: Attempting To Resolve The Dispute Through Mediation

At the consultation, the first course of action is usually mediation. Mediation is a non-adversarial process where a neutral third party, known as the mediator, facilitates communication between the parties and helps them reach a mutually satisfactory resolution.

Mediation has the advantage of preserving relationships, as it encourages cooperation and understanding rather than adversarial contests.

Adjudication: If Mediation Fails, The Claim Proceeds To Adjudication

If mediation fails or is unsuitable, the claim will proceed to adjudication. During adjudication, a Referee of the SCT will conduct a hearing and make a legally binding decision based on the case’s merits. Unlike in court trials, the rules of evidence are less strict in SCT hearings, and the Referee has wide discretion.

Hearing Process And Procedures

During the hearing, the parties can present their cases, put forward arguments, and produce evidence. Importantly, both parties may also question the other party’s evidence or question the other party themselves. Despite the formal setting, the atmosphere in the SCT is meant to be less intimidating than that of a typical courtroom.

The Referee guides the parties through the process and is authorised to intervene, ask questions, and clarify points to ensure that all important matters are thoroughly and fairly examined.

Explanation Of The Tribunal’s Powers And Decision-Making Authority

The Small Claims Tribunal, guided by the Small Claims Tribunals Act, possesses the authority to make orders to resolve the dispute at hand. For instance, it may order the payment of money or for goods to be delivered or services to be provided.

However, it’s important to note that the SCT’s powers are limited to its jurisdiction. The orders the tribunal gives are legally binding, and failure to comply can result in further legal action.

Enforcement Of Small Claims Tribunal Orders

Obtaining The Tribunal’s Order Or Decision

Once the hearing concludes, the tribunal will issue an order. This order represents the decision of the SCT and is enforceable by law. Both parties will receive a copy of this order. It’s crucial to review and understand the order’s details thoroughly, as it will specify what actions must be taken, by whom, and when.

Exploring Options For Enforcing The Tribunal’s Decision

If a party does not voluntarily comply with the order, there are several mechanisms to enforce it. You may apply to the High Court to register the order, after which it can be enforced like a court judgement. The enforcement procedures can include seizing and selling the debtor’s property or even garnishing the debtor’s wages.

Seeking Legal Advice Or Representation, If Necessary

While the SCT process is designed to be navigable without legal counsel, there might be instances where legal advice or representation is beneficial, particularly when enforcing the SCT’s decision. It’s crucial to seek legal advice before commencing any enforcement action, as the procedures can be complex and may involve additional costs.

Tips For A Successful Small Tribunal Claim

Achieving success in your small tribunal claim involves thoroughly preparing and understanding the process. Be sure to gather all pertinent documents, familiarise yourself with the SCT’s procedures, and present your case clearly and concisely.

Always adhere to the timelines provided by the SCT, and if at any point you are uncertain, feel free to ask for clarification from the SCT staff.

Conclusion On Small Claims Tribunal In Singapore

Remember, the Small Claims Tribunal is designed to provide a faster, simpler, and more cost-effective method for resolving smaller disputes. But even then, the importance of the right legal advice cannot be overstated.

While the tribunal promotes a self-help approach, seeking professional legal advice when needed can offer a distinct advantage, making the difference between a successful claim and a missed opportunity. Remember, there are different types of Courts in Singapore that address different types of issues and claims.

Whether you’re considering filing a small tribunal claim or facing one, don’t go through it alone. Engage with a legal professional who understands the small claims tribunals landscape in Singapore. Their expertise can provide guidance, reassurance, and potentially a more favourable outcome. After all, the right advice at the right time can make all the difference.

Frequently Asked Questions About Small Claims Tribunal In Singapore

How Long Does The Small Claims Tribunal Process Typically Take?

The duration can vary depending on the case’s complexity and the parties’ availability. However, the consultation date is usually within ten working days from the claim’s filing date.

What Can I Do If The Opposing Party Does Not Comply With The Small Claims Tribunal Order?

If the party does not comply with the order, you may apply to the High Court to register the order, after which it can be enforced like a court judgement.

Are There Any Alternatives If I Don’t Want To Pursue A Small Tribunal Claim?

Alternatives to SCT include negotiation, mediation (outside SCT), arbitration, or full court proceedings. The choice depends on the nature of the dispute, potential costs, and the desired outcome.

Can A Company File A Claim At The Small Claims Tribunal?

Yes, a company, as a legal entity, can file a claim at the SCT. However, the claim must still fall within the jurisdiction of the SCT.

Can I Appeal Against The Decision Of The Small Claims Tribunal?

In general, decisions of the Small Claims Tribunal cannot be appealed. However, if you believe there has been a significant error of law or if the tribunal exceeded its jurisdiction, you may be able to have the case reviewed by the High Court.

Are There Any Circumstances Under Which A Lawyer May Represent A Party At The Small Claims Tribunal?

While the SCT is designed for self-representation, lawyers may be allowed in exceptional cases where the Referee deems it just and equitable to do so.

What Happens If I Miss The Deadline To File My Claim With The Small Claims Tribunal?

If you file your claim within the prescribed time limit, your claim may be accepted. Therefore, ensuring that all paperwork is submitted on time is critical.

About the author

About the author

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan is the Founder and Managing Director of Tembusu Law. He is also the founder of LawGuide Singapore, a prominent legaltech startup which successfully created and launched Singapore’s first legal chatbot in 2017.