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April 01, 2010

Small Claims Courts Broaden Access to Justice in the Philippines

April 2010            

On March 18, the Supreme Court of the Philippines implemented the Rule of Procedure for Small Claims Cases, authorizing all first-level trial courts to hear small claims cases. Developed over two years of collaboration with the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the new rules utilize existing judicial infrastructure to expedite cases and improve access to justice in more than 1,000 courts nationwide.

The pilot small claims project was launched in 44 trial courts in select urban areas of the Philippines in October 2008, targeting cases involving money claims of up to $2,000 and costing an average of $30 per case in court fees and legal expenses.

“The project has been instrumental in addressing case congestion and delay as alternative to the regular court procedure by providing an inexpensive, informal and simple procedure for filing claims,” said Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez. Just nine months after the project started, the 44 pilot courts have decided 3,547cases—37% of which were settled by agreement. The availability of a low-cost, speedy court process has also encouraged debtors to engage with creditors and micro-finance lenders to disburse more loans to underserved clients.

Shortly after the implementation of the new procedure rules, ABA ROLI assisted the Supreme Court with training 150 judges and court clerks on the new rules, and on mediation and case resolution. The day-long Manila training, attended by judges and clerks from the National Capital Region, used case studies to discuss common problems encountered by judges in the small claims pilot program.

“Before, the thousands of cases involving small money claims have taken a long time in the courts due to the multiple motions filed by lawyers that delay cases,” said Maria Garcia Cadiz-Casaclang, a judge from one of the pilot small claims courts. “With the new rule, cases [can be] disposed of immediately and poor litigants [can] arrive at win-win solutions through active mediation.” She also said that the discussions and sharing of best practices by the pilot judges will help the courts understand and properly apply the rule.

Judge Nadine Fama of Quezon City said, “Considering that about 30% of our cases involve small money claims, the provisions of the new Rule of Procedure for Small Claims Cases, particularly the 30-day period to set hearings and 24-hour period to decide on cases, will significantly help reduce the court docket.” Fama said that the seminar was very enlightening, providing the judges with some guidance that would help them in their courts.

“Through the nationwide roll-out of the small claims court system, court processes will now be fast, simple and affordable, reducing financial and human resource burdens of both the litigants and the court system,” said Roger Carlson, acting deputy mission director for the USAID.

Carlson, Marquez and Justice Adolf Azcuna, chancellor of Philippine Judicial Academy, spoke at the seminar.

To learn more about our work in the Philippines, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at <[email protected]>.