It seems that the law cannot prevent a bank from prolonging a dissatisfied customer’s pain.
PETALING JAYA: It appears that in Malaysia, as in Britain, the law is friendlier to banks than to their clients.
In a judgment delivered more than a year ago, the Kuala Lumpur High Court declared that CIMB had breached the confidentiality of a client’s account and awarded him general and special damages.
But the client, Wong Yen Mun, is not celebrating. He has yet to collect his dues and, worse, he does not even know when he can collect.
The legal system, it seems, allows the bank to delay the payment indefinitely.
The case reminds us of a 1996 report by Britain’s Independent Banking Advisory Service (IBAS), which concluded that the legal system rarely worked in favour of bank customers.
In Wong’s case, the judge did not specify the amount CIMB must pay him, but told both plaintiff and defendant to appear before the Deputy Registrar of the High Court “for assessment of damages”.
The IBAS report was based on research conducted over four years, during which the organisation monitored the progress of suits brought against banks by their clients.
IBAS is a non-profit organisation offering help to those in dispute with their banks or lenders.
It said that in a large number of cases, banks deliberately delayed the legal process by a variety of methods. Some 43% of the bank customers involved in the research had been in litigation for more than four years and 57% for more than two years. Some 62% had changed solicitors three or four times.
In Wong’s case, a bank official admitted in open court that CIMB did make a mistake about his address, causing thereby a loss of the confidentiality of his account.
However, the bank has yet to comply with the High Court judgment. Will justice be speedily served?
The losers are…
The IBAS report noted that banks all had their own in-house specialist banking lawyers, with instructions to protect the banks’ position at any cost, and that they often employed delay tactics.
It also noted that banks repeatedly reverted to the courts for extension of time.
It is therefore relevant to ask the following question: If CIMB decides to go to the Court of Appeal, can it be construed as a delay tactic since it cannot change the fact of the bank’s admission of having breached the client confidentiality?
Furthermore, can the bank, notwithstanding the court’s judgment, apply for a stay of damage assessment? Are there loopholes in the law or weaknesses in legal enforcement that would allow the bank to avoid complying with the judgement?
Citing other tactics, IBAS gave examples of claims that vital documents were missing or lost before the discovery stage and therefore not available to the customers’ lawyers or indeed the court.
“If the customer’s case looks sound and the bank senses a possible defeat, they will invariably offer a derisory out-of-court settlement, but only after a number of years have elapsed,” the report said.
“Such settlement offers rarely reflect a realistic or fair figure and are offered in the knowledge that the easy option may be preferred by the customer’s advisers and the legal aid board.