|Description of this AgencyDescription of this Agency|
The tribunal system was developed as an alternative to the more rigorous structure of the court system. It was an attempt to solve disputes in specialist areas where the courts previously applied general principles, in a much simpler and inexpensive way, often without the need for legal representation.
During the 1980s the tribunal system expanded quickly. Although the Administrative Appeals Tribunal was established in 1984 to create a central structure for the hearing of administrative matters, tribunals were often established with separate administrations and procedures.
The process of reforming the tribunal systems began in 1995 with a paper entitled Tribunals in the Department of Justice: A principled approach. The research advocated the establishment of a new system of arrangement that would bring greater consistency in the way tribunals approached matters.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal was established under the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998 as part of a package of reforms to improve the operation of the justice system. A number of tribunals were amalgamated standardising procedures and diminishing the enormous overlap that existed.
VCAT was created to offer a one-stop shop dealing with a range of disputes in its two divisions Civil and Administrative. The Civil division solves adversarial disputes in relation to consumer matters, credit, discrimination, domestic building works, guardianship and administration as well as residential and retail tenancies. It is made of the following lists that specialise in particular types of cases:
Civil Claims List
Domestic Building List
Residential Tenancy List
Retail Tenancy List
The Administrative division ideals with disputes between people and the government in relation to land valuation, licenses to carry on business, planning, state taxation and other government decisions such as freedom of information issues and Transport Accident Commission decisions. It consists of the following lists:
Land Valuation List
Occupational and Business Regulation List
Before VCAT was established these matters were dealt with by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal, the Credit Tribunal, the Domestic Building Tribunal, the Guardianship and Administration Board, the Residential Tenancies Tribunal and the Small Claims Tribunal.
The members of the former tribunals were transferred to VCAT.
VCAT has a five tiered hierarchy of members. Part V of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Act 1998 provided for the appointment of a Supreme Court judge as President of the Tribunal (for a period of no more than five years). The President is to be assisted by two Vice-Presidents who are County Court judges. Deputy Presidents (as many as required for the proper functioning of the Tribunal) are appointed and manage one or more lists. There are also senior and ordinary members who work on a full time, part time or sessional basis. Members are allocated to Lists. However, members can be allocated matters from other Lists (provided that they have appropriate qualifications) to allow for the most efficient use of members time and expertise.
When a hearing is held, it takes place before a member of VCAT. Hearings are conducted in a relatively informal atmosphere and parties have the opportunity to call or give evidence, ask questions of witnesses and make submissions.
Parties can put their case directly to VCAT themselves or, in some circumstances, VCAT can allow the use of a lawyer or professional advocate to help settle the matter. In limited circumstances parties are automatically allowed to have a legal representative or professional advocate. At the end of a hearing, the Tribunal makes a decision. If any party remains unsatisfied with the Tribunals decision they can lodge an appeal, on a question of law, with the Supreme Court.