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LCQ17: Financial limit of claims of Small Claims Tribunal
     Following is a question by the Hon Holden Chow and a written reply by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (February 15):
     The Small Claims Tribunal (the Tribunal) was established to provide members of the public with a simple and inexpensive means to deal with monetary claims arising from contracts or torts, involving amounts not exceeding $50,000 (financial limit of claims).  Common types of claims include those relating to debts, service charges, damage to property, goods sold as well as consumer claims.  Some members of the public have pointed out that as the amounts involved in civil disputes have increased substantially since the financial limit of claims was set at $50,000 in 1999, the financial limit of claims should be raised.  They have also pointed out that, for the years from 2013 to 2015, while the Judiciary had set a target of 60 days for the average waiting time for "Small Claims Tribunal―from filing of a case to first hearing", the actual average waiting time was 36 days; these data show that the Tribunal, with its existing resources, is capable of handling additional claim cases due to an upward adjustment of the financial limit of claims.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council whether it will consider setting a higher financial limit of claims, say $100,000; if it will, whether the Government will allocate more resources, when necessary, to ensure that the efficiency of the Tribunal in handling claims will not be reduced owing to an increase in the number of cases being handled?
     The Government has consulted the Judiciary on the questions raised.  According to the information provided by the Judiciary, the Government’s reply is as follows:
     At present, the Small Claims Tribunal (SCT) under the Judiciary deals with monetary claims not exceeding $50,000.  The SCT is a tribunal which adopts a more informal approach to proceedings and its rules and procedures are less strict than those in most other courts and tribunals, and no legal representation is allowed therein.  It provides a relatively quick and less costly avenue for litigants to resolve civil disputes involving lower claim amounts.
     In 2015-16, the Judiciary has started to conduct a review of the civil jurisdictional limit of the District Court and that of SCT.  As far as the jurisdictional limit of SCT is concerned, the Government understands that the Judiciary intends to introduce an upward adjustment to the limit with a view to further enhancing access to justice by allowing SCT to process more cases with lower claim amounts which may otherwise not be pursued by parties if they have to lodge such cases at the District Court where costs of litigation are higher.
     To this end, the Government understands that the Judiciary conducted a public consultation exercise on the review of the jurisdictional limits of both the District Court and SCT in 2015-16.  Having conducted some sensitivity and impact analysis on the possible increase in caseload at the both District Court and SCT following any proposed increases of their civil jurisdictional limits, and taking into account changes in some economic indicators in recent years, the Judiciary has put forward specific proposals in consulting the stakeholders, including the legal professional bodies, in the jurisdictional increases.  As far as the jurisdictional limit of SCT is concerned, the Judiciary is proposing to increase its jurisdictional limit from $50,000 to $75,000.  Such a proposed increase would have an impact on the caseload and workload of SCT.  This proposal has received general support from all stakeholders in the public consultation exercise.
     Based on the comments received from the stakeholders during the consultation conducted earlier, the Government understands that the Judiciary is now finalising the proposals with regard to the proposed increase of the civil jurisdictional limit of SCT (and also that of the District Court) and intends to consult the Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services of the Legislative Council on the final proposals in April 2017.

     The Government understands that in the course of reviewing the civil jurisdictional limit of SCT (and that of the District Court as well), the Judiciary has also conducted a detailed assessment on the resource implications arising from the proposed increases, in particular the impact on the requirements of additional judicial and non-judicial manpower and court facilities.  The Judiciary considers that it is essential to have the necessary additional manpower and court facilities available and ready at SCT (and also at the District Court) before the proposed increases in the jurisdictional limits are implemented.
     As far as SCT is concerned:
(1) on the additional requirements for judicial and non-judicial manpower, the Judiciary has put forward its requests to the Government under the established budgetary arrangements.  The Government will continue to adopt a most constructive and facilitating approach in considering the resource requests from the Judiciary.  As stated before, the Government will ensure that the Judiciary will be provided with adequate resources to support the efficient and effective operation of the court system; and
(2) on court facilities, the Government understands that following the relocation of SCT from Wanchai Tower to the new West Kowloon Law Courts Building (WKLCB) in September 2016, the number of court rooms available for use by SCT has increased from 9 to 12.  According to the Judiciary, this will enable SCT to handle additional cases following the proposed increase of its civil jurisdictional limits after implementation.  To enhance the services to the litigants, the Judiciary has also set up a new Information Centre at WKLCB to provide enquiry services on rules and procedures of SCT, thereby facilitating the smooth conduct of the proceedings at SCT.
Ends/Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Issued at HKT 14:37
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