Small Claims Court to Improve Access to Justice

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Supreme Court administrator Midas Marquez and Metropolitan Trial Court Judge Jackie Crisologo-Saguisag respond to questions about the recently reintroduced Small Claims Court that improves access to justice for the common Filipino through a simple process, face-to-face settlement and speedy resolution of disputes.

In this country, justice is seen to be something that can be attained only if one has the money and right connections. What then will be the recourse of the poor who do not have either one?

In answer to that concern, the Small Claims Court was established through the Supreme Court’s special rule of procedure.  As a pioneering effort of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, it aims to provide an efficient means for the masses to settle disputes involving monetary claims instead of the regular civil process.

The Small Claims Court, which has been in effect since October 2008, can hear and decide civil claims amounting to P100,000 and below, not including interests and costs. Claims filed under these courts include actual damages to vehicles, other personal property, real property and person; money owed under a contract of lease, loan, services, sale or mortgage; and civil actions such as payment of money covered by bounced or stopped checks.

All first level courts which include Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts in Cities and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts are designated as Small Claims Courts.

For claims not more than P100,000, a four-step process assures an affordable, informal and simple settlement of cases .

  1. The claimant must file the documents, evidences and affidavit needed for the cases at the Clerk of Court in his municipality.

  2. He or she must then pay the P1,000 fee per claim for indigents. Additional fees may be charged for non-indigent claimants.

  3. Claimant must wait for the “summons of hearing” as the case is being raffled by the court.

  4. Once called, one should appear before the designated Small Claims Court on the hearing date for the final decision and settlement mandated by the judge.

The process allows the parties to handle their own case from start to finish with ready-made forms and non-strict procedural rules, without needing a lawyer. Judges decide based on facts presented and evidence obtained in one hearing. Before hearing the case on merit, judges try to convince the parties to settle amicably in the barangay as decisions made through the Small Claims Courts are final and cannot be appealed.

“The Supreme Court hopes to increase the access to justice of indigent and disadvantaged Filipinos through the inexpensiveness, accessibility and expediency of the Small Claims Court,” said Supreme Court administrator Midas Marquez.

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