VCAT - A Growing Jurisdiction
Daily we see stories in the press about cases in the Courts of Victoria: Supreme, County and Magistrates Courts. The Courts get most of the publicity, but what about the Tribunal where many more disputes are brought and resolved: the Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)?
VCAT finalizes more than 85,000 cases a year. Most of these are disputes. Individuals and small businesses are far more likely to be involved in a VCAT dispute than in a Court proceeding.
VCAT has four divisions: Administrative, Civil, Human Rights and Residential Tenancies.
The VCAT Civil Division has three lists: Civil Claims, Building & Property and Owners Corporations. These lists handle a variety of disputes relating to:
- Consumer matters
- Domestic building disputes
- Owners corporation matters
- Retail tenancy disputes
- Property disputes
The rest of this article focuses on the Civil Claims List:
Can I be represented by a lawyer?
Usually the permission of the Tribunal is required before a lawyer can appear. This will ordinarily be granted in more complex matters. Permission would not normally be given where the claim is $10,000 or less.
Disputes about goods and services
VCAT deals with disputes arising out of the purchase or supply of any goods or services of any value, in Victoria. It also has jurisdiction for claims made under the Australian Consumer Law for misleading conduct and unconscionable conduct and consumer guarantees.
The Tribunal can make a variety of orders, including for payment of money, orders reviewing varying or cancelling contracts, damages for payment of money, declaring unfair terms in a consumer contract and other orders.
Can a party recover costs?
The starting point in VCAT is that each party is to bear their own costs in the proceeding (Section 109 Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal Act 1998). However, Section 109 also provides that the Tribunal may order that a party pay some or all of the costs of another party, having regard to various factors including:
- Whether a party has conducted the proceeding in a way that unnecessarily disadvantaged another party (eg, failing to comply with orders or directions, causing adjournments etc).
- Whether a party has been responsible for prolonging, unreasonably, the time taken to complete the proceeding.
- The relative strengths of the claims and whether a party has made a claim that has no tenable basis.
- The nature and complexity of the proceeding.
It is common for costs orders to be made in contested civil claims.
What is required for a mediation or hearing?
Preparation is the key. As a general comment, all relevant documents should be produced and clearly be explained. Witnesses should be at the hearing available to give evidence. Your position should be presented clearly and cogently.
What do I do if I receive a VCAT claim?
You should read the documents carefully and take particular note of any hearing date specified and any requirements to file documents with the Tribunal. Should you wish to seek legal advice, we recommend that you put together a summary of the claim and, ideally, a basic chronology to explain the history. This makes it much easier for the lawyer to understand what has happened and what the issues are.
The above is a basic summary of some aspects of VCAT.
The VCAT website has more information: www.vcat.vic.gov.au
Please contact Matthew Hicks, Principal, on 9629 7411 if you would like any more specific advice.