LC Paper No. CB(2)2180/98-99
Paper for the House Committee meeting on 4 June 1999Introduction
Report of the Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services
Small Claims Tribunal (Amendment) Bill 1999
The Small Claims Tribunal (Amendment) Bill 1999 was introduced into the Legislative Council on 21 April 1999. At the House Committee meeting on 23 April 1999, Members agreed that the Administration should be asked to brief the Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services on the Bill and a number of issues raised. Members also agreed to defer a decision on the Bill, pending discussion by the Panel.
2. This paper reports on the deliberations of the Panel at its meeting held on 27 May 1999.
Deliberations of the Panel
3. Members have expressed concern about manpower arrangement to handle the additional workload in the Small Claims Tribunal (the Tribunal) resulting from the increase in financial jurisdictional limit from $15,000 to $50,000.
4. The Administration has explained that when the Panel was consulted in January 1999, the proposal was to increase the limit to $35,000. In an effort to further lower litigation costs for the public and having re-examined the capacity of and resources available at the Tribunal, the proposal is now revised to $50,000. It is estimated that about 10 000 cases per year will flow from the District Court to the Small Claims Tribunal as a result of the newly proposed financial jurisdictional limit of the latter. This is about 3 000 cases more than the previous estimate for the proposed limit of $35,000.
5. According to the Administration, resources have been reserved for the Judiciary to create additional posts of an Adjudicator and necessary support staff in anticipation of the increase in jurisdictional limit. Furthermore, with the enactment of the Small Claims Tribunal (Amendment) Bill, the Adjudicator will be empowered to direct a party to comply with his order within a specified period of time, failing which the claim may be dismissed, struck out, stayed, or judgment entered. This should deter parties from wilfully wasting the Tribunal's time and therefore enhance the efficiency of the Tribunal in adjudicating cases. Assuming that the number of cases filed in 1999 will not be abnormally higher than the 1998 figure, the Judiciary estimates that the Tribunal, with perhaps a slightly longer waiting time but still within the timeframe of its performance pledge, should be able to handle the increase in caseload.
Waiting time in the Small Claims Tribunal
6. Members have also expressed concern about measures to resolve the issue of potential longer waiting time for litigants.
7. The Administration has advised that the Judiciary regularly reviews the operation of the Tribunal and introduces measures to minimise court-waiting time. Such measures include temporary deployment of manpower resources to deal with any sudden surge in the number of cases filed, dedicating a court to deal with group claims and familiarising litigants with the procedure of the Tribunal by distributing user-friendly information leaflets. The caseload and average waiting time in the Tribunal for the past few years have indicated that cases could be processed within its target waiting time of 60 days.
8. The Administration is aware that there may be extraneous factors that could increase the workload or there might be hidden demand arising from cases which would otherwise not be commenced if not for the lower litigation costs in the Tribunal. It will hence continue to monitor the situation after the higher jurisdictional limit comes into operation, and introduce administrative measures where possible, or seek additional resources, to ensure that the Tribunal maintains its efficiency.
Review of financial jurisdictional limit of the Tribunal
9. Members have noted that the current financial limit of $15,000 of the Tribunal has not been adjusted since 1988 and that the Law Society of Hong Kong has suggested that a provision for an automatic review of the limit on a biennial basis be included in the Bill.
10. The Administration has advised that it is prepared to review the jurisdiction limits of various levels of courts more regularly in the future, say at two to three-yearly intervals. Section 6 of the Small Claims Tribunal Ordinance provides that the financial jurisdiction limits of the Tribunal may be adjusted by way of resolution of the Legislative Council.
Transfer of cases from the Tribunal to higher courts
11. In response to members' queries, the Administration has advised that the number of cases transferred from the Tribunal to the High Court and the District Court is as follows -
|Year||To High Court||To District Court
total claims filed
Most of the cases were transferred because the amount of the claims exceeded the financial jurisdictional limit of the Tribunal.
District Court jurisdictional limit
12. Members have enquired about the present position regarding the proposal to increase the financial jurisdictional limits of the District Court. As the proposed increase in financial jurisdictional limit of the Tribunal would result in about 10 000 cases being diverted from the District Court to the Tribunal per year, they have expressed concern about the full utilisation of the District Court. Members have reiterated the need for the financial jurisdictional limits of the District Court to be increased correspondingly as soon as possible.
13. The Administration has assured members that it is considering higher financial jurisdictional limits for the District Court in the light of the newly proposed limit for the Tribunal. It remains committed to introducing the District Court (Amendment) Bill within this legislative session.
14. Noting that the Small Claims Tribunal (Amendment) Bill has already been introduced into the Legislative Council and the Administration has undertaken to introduce the District Court (Amendment) Bill without delay, members have no objection to the resumption of the Second Reading debate on the Small Claims Tribunal (Amendment) Bill.
Legislative Council Secretariat
3 June 1999