In Australia, very strict procedures must be followed in court proceedings. The parties generally need to hire lawyers to prepare documents that meet the court requirements, assist in gathering evidence, and represent them in the court. The entire court process is often time-consuming and expensive. In contrast, the process of a VCAT hearing is not as strict and formal. One of the purposes of VCAT is to provide parties with a low-cost, convenient and efficient dispute resolution mechanism.
What types of disputes can be resolved through VCAT?VCAT is a tribunal for minor disputes in Victoria. To accommodate the needs of the parties involved in these disputes, VCAT provides an opportunity for parties to reach a fair outcome without the need to go through lengthy and expensive court proceedings.VCAT comprises of five divisions, including:
The Civil DivisionThis division deals with civil matters related to consumer affairs, commercial leases, property ownership and sales, domestic building works, owners corporation matters, etc.The Administrative DivisionThis division reviews decisions made by the government authorities and professional conduct complaints. This covers areas of taxation, business licensing and professional registrations, work safety assessments, etc.The Human Rights DivisionThis division deals with matters related human rights including guardianship and administration, discrimination, racial and religious vilification, health and information privacy, etc.The Residential Tenancies DivisionThis division mainly deals with disputes between residential landlords and tenants.The Planning and Environment DivisionThis division reviews government decisions relating to environmental law and planning regulations.We can see that VCAT has jurisdiction over a wide range of disputes, but not all of them. For example, VCAT does not assist in:
Traffic accident injury claims
How to initiate proceedings in VCATTo initiate VCAT proceedings, a written application with corresponding documents and evidence is required to be submitted to VCAT.
In some cases, VCAT may require the applicant to meet certain conditions before making an application. For example, before applying for a commercial dispute settlement, the parties need go through a mediation by applying to the Victorian Small Business Commission. Only when the parties cannot reach an agreement in mediation can they apply to VCAT to resolve the matter.
Limitation periods apply to certain cases, where parties must file an application to VCAT within the stipulated timeframe. It is important to note that the application must be made to the appropriate VCAT division that can deal with your case, otherwise your application will not be accepted.
If your application is successful, VCAT will review your case initially. This process may involve alternative dispute resolution through a mandatory conference or mediation. If the matter cannot be resolved, a hearing will take place which is when you will have the opportunity to provide evidence and witnesses to support your claim or defence.
Is a lawyer required? You do not need a lawyer to file an application with VCAT or attend a hearing. Section 62 of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal1998 states that parties may appear in a VCAT proceeding personally or be represented by a lawyer if permitted by the Tribunal or the Act. Children, municipal councils, and government Ministers, credit providers and insurers are allowed to be represented in a hearing.In addition, if you have a language barrier, you may request an interpreter in advance, which costs will be covered by VCAT.
Are decisions of VCAT legally enforceable?VCAT decisions are legally enforceable. Enforcement requires an application to the appropriate court. If any monetary order has been made by VCAT, you may ask the Magistrates Court (for amounts no more than $100,000), the County Court or the Supreme Court (for amounts over $100,000) to enforce the order, depending on the size of the monetary amount. For VCAT orders that does not involve any monetary order, enforcement requires an application to the Supreme Court.
Can I appeal a VCAT decision if I am not satisfied it?If you are not satisfied with the VCAT decision, you may appeal to either the Court of Appeal or the Trial Division of the Supreme Court of Victoria within 28 days of the date of the decision. It is important to note, however, appeals to the Supreme Court of Victoria will only consider the application of law and not the question of fact.For example, in a tenancy dispute, the fact that the tenant owes rent has been established during the VCAT trial. When the decision is appealed to the Supreme Court of Victoria, the court will not review the facts, but examine whether the VCAT applied the law correctly at the time of the decision.
Therefore, if there are any factual issues to be resolved, it must be determined during the VCAT proceeding and cannot be re-examined in an appeal.
VCAT is one of the most popular avenues for dispute resolution, dealing with an extremely high volume of cases each year. Because it is efficient, time-saving and inexpensive, VCAT is often people’s first choice for resolving small disputes. However, it is essential to follow the VCAT process duly without breaching any legal requirements or falling behind the stipulated due dates. If you intend to apply to VCAT to resolve a dispute but are not sure what you need to do, please contact our lawyers and we can help you review your case, submit the application, and assist you throughout the proceedings.
This article is only a general guide and does not apply to readers’ individual cases. Based on the information provided, readers should not make any legal decisions without seeking professional legal advice from an Australian Legal Practitioner. Fumens Lawyers hereby declares that readers who refer to this article do not constitute a lawyer-client relationship with our firm, therefore, Fumens Lawyers will not be liable for any losses caused as a result of relying on the information contained within this article.