Making a small claim in court

Claims of RM5,000 or below need not be written off thanks to the small claims court.

IMAGINE this scenario. You are a freelance interior designer. One day, you do some work for a client, to design the interior of his office. You quote him RM4,500 for the work. 

You complete the work, and you do so within the stipulated time.

The client tells you he is satisfied with your work. You issue an invoice for the sum of RM4,500. But for some reason, the client never pays you.

After some time, you realise that the client does not intend to pay. So you start to consider the options available to you. Should you sue the client for payment? 

The problem is the debt is only RM4,500. Legal fees to engage a lawyer would be more than the outstanding amount, not to mention the length of time it would take for the case to proceed. All things considered, it seems that it would not be worthwhile for you to bring the case to court.

Should you just write off the debt? 

You do have one option, however. You may file a claim at the small claims court.

A small claims court is a magistrate's court which hears "small claims", whereby the amount claimed does not exceed RM5,000.

At the small claims court, parties are not allowed to be represented by a lawyer, although they may consult a lawyer outside of court. 

The small claims procedure has been simplified so that parties are able to bring a claim without the need for lawyers. It also means that parties do not need to spend money on engaging a lawyer to represent them. This makes it more worthwhile to file for small claims. 

For someone making a small claim, he or she may obtain the necessary form from court. The person making the claim, being the plaintiff, must fill the form with his or her name, identity card number and address and the same details for the person against whom the claim is being made, known as the defendant. 

The plaintiff would also need to fill within the form the details and particulars of the claim and how the claim came about. So, for the scenario with the interior designer, you would need to state the amount claimed and the important facts leading to the claim. 

Once the form is filled, it must be returned to court. A small fee must be paid. 

The form will then be sealed by the court, and a date will be fixed for the matter to be heard. The sealed form, now a writ, will need to be served on the defendant by personal service or registered post. 

The defendant will then have to respond to the claim and must file his defence, setting out how he or she refutes the plaintiff’s claim, if the defendant does not admit to it.  Again, it must also be filed in court. 

The hearing of the small claim will be conducted by the magistrate. Like all cases, the plaintiff must prove his or her claim against the defendant. The process includes submitting documents and oral testimony from the parties.

In the scenario of the interior designer, documents such as the agreed quotation, the invoice and photos to show the completed work should be furnished to the court. 

The defendant too will have the chance to defend the claim, by providing his or her evidence to refute the plaintiff’s claim. 

Since lawyers are not involved, the court will not be as strict with regard to procedure compared to a normal claim. 

After hearing from both parties, the magistrate will then make his or her decision, either to allow or dismiss the claim. 

So if you do have a claim that is RM5,000 or below, you can choose to bring a claim in court.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

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