The right for effective redress is one of the most fundamental consumer rights. The Consumer Claims Tribunal (CCT) is the mechanism set up with the objective of resolving disputes between consumers and traders when conciliation has not resulted in an agreement on all issues in dispute between a consumer and a trader.
When can you file a claim before the Tribunal?
The Tribunal may hear claims about the hire or purchase of goods or services if the value of the claim for compensation does not exceed the sum of five thousand euro (€5,000). If the value of the claim exceeds €5,000 a claimant may only pursue his/her claim before the CCT if he/she declares that he is abandoning the amount of his claim which is in excess of €5,000.
While it is normally consumers who present claims before the Tribunal, the CCT may hear and decide with regards to: - any counter-claim by a trader if the consumer had made a claim against that same trader before the Tribunal; - a case commenced before a Court and which later by agreement between the consumer and the trader, is referred for a hearing before the Tribunal.
Prior to presenting your claim before the Tribunal, you should refer the claim to the Director General forConsumer Affairs or a registered consumer association, who will try to help you to reach an amicable agreement with the other party on the issues in dispute. If no such amicable agreement is reached and you decide to proceed with your complaint, you may then present a claim to the Consumer Claims Tribunal which will decide on all pending issues
How can I file a claim before the Tribunal?
A claim before the Tribunal is made by filling a form known as a "Notice of Claim”. This form can ONLY be obtained from the MCCAA after the mediation period and if the consumer decides to present his/her case in front of the Consumer Claims Tribunal. The staff of the CCT will help you if you have any difficulty in filling the form. Note that while the Secretary of the Tribunal can help you understand the procedure you have to follow before the Tribunal, to fill any forms, he/she cannot give you any legal advice or appear on your behalf before the Tribunal.
After theNotice of Claimformis correctly filled, it should then be presented at the Consumer Claims Tribunal’s Registry at 47A, South Street, Valletta - (tel no. 21227070). The claim can also be filed by registered ‘advice of receipt’ mail. The envelope used to send the Notice of Claim form is to be addressed to the Secretary of the Tribunal.
The notice of claim form must also be accompanied by a note by the Director General (Consumer Affairs) or by a registered consumer association, as the case may be, stating that the claim has been referred to the Director General or to the registered consumer association and that subsequent to such reference no settlement was achieved on the issues in dispute.
When you present your claim before the Tribunal a small fee is charged, and this varies according to the value being claimed, as follows:
€9.50- if the value of the claim does not exceed €580
€14- if the value of the claim isbetween €580.01and €1,165
€21- if the value of the claim isbetween €1,165.01and €2,330
€25.50- if the value of the claim isbetween €2,330.01and €3,500
€30- if the value of the claim isbetween €3,500.01and €5,000
Payment of the abovementioned fees can be made directly at the Registry of the Consumer Claims Tribunal on presentation of the notice of the claim from Monday to Friday between 9.00 am and 12.00 pm. No payment can be made outside these hours.
When the Notice of the Claim is sent by registered mail, payment of the applicable fee is to be effected by cheque drawn on the ’Consumer Claims Tribunal’.
What Happens Once I File A Claim With The Consumer Claims Tribunal?
After you present your claim before the Tribunal, the other party will be notified and has the opportunity to reply to your claim or file a counter-claim (In this case you will have a right to reply to this counter-claim). If the other party disputes your claim, the Secretary will then appoint a date, time and place, when the hearing before the Arbiter is to be held and inform the parties involved.
At the hearing each party involved in the dispute will state the facts of the case as he/she knows them under oath. You should therefore make certain that you are well prepared when you attend the hearing. You should also bring with you and present any documents which are relevant to your claim and which may help establish the facts relating to the dispute e.g. letters, invoices, bills, sales slips, contracts, photographs. You may also bring witnesses if you feel that their evidence is relevant to your case. If a witness refuses to attend before the Tribunal, the consumer should contact the Secretary of the Tribunal.
It is in your interest to be present for the hearing. If you are making a claim and you fail to attend for the hearing without giving a reason which is acceptable to the Tribunal, the Tribunal may then decide the case against you. Similarly, the Tribunal may decide a counter-claim in the absence of the person who made the counter-claim. If you cannot attend for a hearing you should contact the Secretary of the Tribunal immediately either by calling him on 21227070.
All parties appearing before the Tribunal need to be dressed decently.
Once the Arbiters hears both parties to the case and considers all the facts as presented to him/her, he/she will give a decision and such decision will be communicated to each of the parties.
Do I Need To Be Assisted By An Advocate?
A party may conduct his own case during a hearing and the procedures applied by the Tribunal are such as to enable the consumer to state his/her case without the need of an advocate.
The consumer may also choose to be assisted by any other person including an advocate or a legal procurator. One must however bear in mind, that the cost of engaging an advocate or a legal procurator will be borne by the consumer even if the case is decided in his/her favour.
Right Of Appeal
After the hearing the Arbiter will deliver his decision in writing. Whoever has a case may enforce the Tribunal's decision similar to a court judgement. However, one should be prudent enough in respect of the other party so that the latter be given a reasonable time during which he is expected to abide by the Tribunal's decision. If the other party fails to do so, one may initiate the relative legal action to have the Tribunal's decision enforced.
An appeal against a decision of the Tribunal can only be made within 20 days from the date of the decision:
Where the amount of the claim in dispute is less than €1,200:
a) on any matter relating to the jurisdiction of the Tribunal;
b) on any question of prescription;
c) where the tribunal has acted contrary to the rules of of natural justice and, as a result seriously prejudiced the rights of the appellant.
Where the amount of the claim exceeds €1,200 on all grounds.
Enforcing A Decision Of The Tribunal
If the CCT decision is issued in your favour, and 20 days have lapsed since the date of the decision, you should contact the trader and demand that the Tribunal’s decision be honoured.
If the trader refuses to comply with the Tribunal’s decision, it is advisable that you seek advice from your private lawyer so as to seek the execution of the CCT’s decision through the applicable civil remedies.
In this respect, kindly note that Article 25 (3) of the Consumer Affairs Act (Chapter 378 of the Laws of Malta) provides that any Court fees payable in respect of any warrant issued for the purpose of enforcing a decision of the Consumer Claims Tribunal shall amount to one-half of the court fees that are normally due.