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Through the justice reform programme called the Small Claims Procedures, the Supreme Court of the Philippines (SC) is combatting court congestion and backlogs. The programme provides quick and inexpensive means to dispute settlement in civil cases involving money claims that do not exceed PHP 400,000. This study will provide the SC with evidence on the impacts that Small Claims Procedures have on efficiency in the courts.
The Philippine judiciary has long faced the challenge of court congestion, which has involved a high volume of backlogged cases and severe delays in case disposition. Such delays deny citizens the ability to access swift and fair administration of justice – a key priority of the government as highlighted in the Philippines Development Plan (2017-2022). To address this, the SC is implementing several reforms primarily in first and second level trial courts to improve court efficiency and reduce backlogs. Most notable are the introduction of a system of eCourts that involve time-saving technology, new Continuous Trial Guidelines to speed up case disposition and revised Small Claims Procedures to reduce court burden.
Can improvements in technology and case management practices reduce court congestion and improve court efficiency, without compromising on the quality of judicial decisions?
Specifically, does Small Claims Procedures improve court efficiency in terms of case disposition rates and reduce average trial duration for civil cases concerning small money claims?
Key outcomes of interest include case disposition, trial duration and backlog.
The rules of procedure for small claims cases provide a quick and inexpensive means of dispute settlement in civil cases concerning money claims that do not exceed PHP 400,000. Small Claims Procedures was developed and implemented with the following objectives: (1) free up courts’ already scarce resources, (2) ensure access to justice for all citizens and small enterprises, and (3) make existing procedures more cost-effective and efficient (e.g. provide simple forms, fixed timeline, prohibited pleadings and motions, eliminated need of lawyers in hearings) for litigants of small claims cases. The procedures were introduced in 2010 in all first-level courts. Prompted by the initial success, the procedures were amended in 2016 to widen the small claims amount threshold from PHP 100,000 to PHP 200,000, then to PHP 300,000 in 2018 and most recently to PHP 400,000 in 2019. Today, the Small Claims Procedure is in effect nationwide, but its adoption is optional and take-up is well below 100 per cent.
Theory of change
The Small Claims Procedure reform provides litigants a quick and inexpensive means of dispute settlement in civil cases involving money claims up to PHP 400,000. Its simplified procedures and dispensing of the intervention of lawyers not only increases access to justice, but also increases efficiency in the court through quicker disposal of cases.
The regression discontinuity analysis will exploit the explicit eligibility threshold of PHP 400,000 and the ordering using the amount of money claims to measure the impact of the introduction of the Small Claims Procedure. Cases just below the eligibility threshold and just above are virtually identical producing valid treatment and comparison groups. The difference in outcomes of cases below the threshold (the treatment group) and those above the threshold (the comparison group) will provide the estimate of the impact. The range of observations below and above the threshold that will be included in the analysis will be determined by balancing bias and variance exhibited by the outcomes of interest.