Lawyers say the threshold from lawful conduct to harassment is crossed when the debt collector's actions cause undue alarm.
"If a lawful debt collector continuously bangs the gate, rings the doorbell and hurls abuse or obscenities so as to cause alarm in the victim, then the threshold is crossed," said lawyer R. S. Bajwa. "Having five or more persons involved in the commotion would constitute an unlawful assembly," he added.
The factual situations for what debt collectors can and cannot do will develop as the courts clarify the law as relevant cases come before them.
In the case before District Judge Kenneth Yap, both offenders had pleaded guilty to harassment as part of an unlawful assembly, and the blow-by-blow account of what transpired showed they had shouted at the victim repeatedly and had taken turns to rattle the gate. This happened from 10.15pm.
"That the group worked in tandem to apply pressure through intimidating action and insulting words makes it amply clear that harassment was their standard operating procedure," said the judge.
"The fact that the owner of the agency stood by to oversee the process further underscores that the incident was the result of a planned corporate policy of aggression, and not a sudden escalation from an innocuous house visit," added Judge Yap.
CROSSING THE THRESHOLD
If a lawful debt collector continuously bangs the gate, rings the doorbell and hurls abuse or obscenities so as to cause alarm in the victim, then the threshold is crossed.
LAWYER R. S. BAJWA, on unacceptable behaviour.
Mr T. J. Vijay, the general manager of leading debt collection agency JMS Rogers, said the ground rules for going to a home or office to collect a debt is a grey area, and a thin line divides what is right from wrong. But he added that the firm has strict compliance procedures in place for its enforcement staff.
Among other things, staff are required to inform the nearest police post before a house visit is made after 10 pm, he said.