THE Consumer Claims Tribunal and the Tribunal for Homebuyer Claims do not allow disputing parties to be represented by lawyers. This is because they are supposed to be low-cost forums for the public’s small claims matters.
“Lawyers” here refers to practising lawyers. This provision, in many cases, leaves the claimants at a disadvantage as large businesses often have employees who have legal qualifications.
These employees, who do not hold practising certificates from the Bar Council, are assigned to represent their employers at tribunal hearings. For all practical purposes they are “lawyers” but are allowed to speak on behalf of their employers.
The man-in-the-street can get the help of anyone (including lawyers) to prepare their claim forms for filing. But at the hearing, they can have difficulty presenting their cases.
They may not be able to articulate or present their case coherently, and rebut the defendants’ “lawyers”.
Thus, some claimants are left at a disadvantageous position at hearings, not because they have any physical “disability” but because their knowledge, experience, confidence, talking ability, etc. do not match those of the defendants’ “lawyers”.
A clause in tribunal law says: “A minor or any other person under a disability may be represented by his next friend or guardian ad litem”.
Isn’t a layperson claimant, who is facing a “lawyer” from the defendant’s side, “under a disability” as he is no match for the “lawyer”? How is this section interpreted and applied by the tribunals?
A person can be “under a disability” if he is a minor, physically-handicapped or has some mental condition. That is easily understood. But when a person is not intellectually on par with his opponent, is that condition not a form of disability as well?
Do tribunals recognise “intellectual disability” which can result in injustice happening to the intellectually-disabled, which must not be confused with those “mentally-disabled”?
The phrase “person under a disability” in tribunal laws should cover a wider, fuller spectrum of “disability” and not only “legal disability”.
Could the tribunals throw some light on this and whether they allow persons under “intellectual disability” to be assisted by anyone other than practising lawyers.