An overview of tribunals
Administrative tribunals play a significant role in the resolution of disputes at both the federal and state level in Australia. Tribunals do not have the power to review decisions made by the government or other bodies. The power of a A body set up to hear and decide disputes, usually with less formality and less strict rules of evidence than in a court proceeding. is limited to reviewing administrative decisions expressly made subject to review by Statutory rules made by parliament or by bodies the parliament delegates power to, for example a local council or a registration authority. See delegated legislation; statute.. Most tribunals are established to hear disputes concerning the administrative actions of government, either generally (e.g. the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)) or in relation to the administration of a particular department or piece of legislation (e.g. the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT)).
Other tribunals have been established to hear disputes between individuals or businesses that have nothing to do with government action.
Tribunals are generally established for the resolution of particular types of dispute in relation to which the courts are inappropriate, either because they lack the requisite expertise, are too expensive or slow, or are otherwise inaccessible.
The person The time and place at which a court or tribunal hears the parties argue their case and makes a decision. cases in a tribunal is called a ‘member’ of the tribunal (i.e. rather than being called a magistrate or a judge).
Tribunals differ from courts in a number of ways. Some of the differences include:
- Procedures in a tribunal are less formal, the required documentation is simpler, the rules of Material presented to a court to prove or disprove a fact. It can include what witnesses say as well as documents and other objects. are applied less rigidly, and the hearings are conducted in a less formal manner.
- The member of a tribunal who is hearing a case takes an active role in the proceedings. This differs from traditional magistrates and judges who are bound by the restrictions of the The system used to decide court cases in Australia. In this system, barristers for each opposing party question witnesses and present arguments and evidence to the judge, who then decides between them and makes orders about what is to happen. Also called the adversarial system. Compare an inquisitorial legal system. See also barrister; court. and A written law made by parliament. Also called an ‘Act of parliament’, ‘statute’ or legislation. as passive umpires of the issues presented by the opposing parties.
- The judging panel in a tribunal may be comprised of members who are legally qualified and members who have specialist expertise in the relevant subject matter. For example, VCAT’s Administrative Division – which hears planning appeals – has members who are town planners.
- Some tribunals encourage or require parties to appear in person, without lawyers.
- While courts are bound by the previous decisions of superior courts, tribunals are not. Instead, tribunals are required to determine each matter on its merits. However, in practice, many tribunals follow The doctrine that courts must follow past rulings of higher courts in very similar cases. For example, the County Court of Victoria must follow relevant rulings of the Supreme Court of Victoria. The precedent comes from the reasons a judge has given for their decision in a case. See also case law. for the sake of being consistent in their decision-making.
Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) was established by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998 (Vic). VCAT is also bound by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (Fees) Regulations 2013 (Vic) and Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Rules 2018.
VCAT deals with many different types of cases, including:
• residential tenancies;
• goods and services;
• planning and the environment;
• owners corporations;
• building and property;
• review and regulation;
• human rights;
• legal practice.
For VCAT’s contact details, see ‘Contacts’ at the end of this chapter. Also, visit VCAT’s website at www.vcat.vic.gov.au.
Administrative Appeals Tribunal
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975 (Cth) provides for the establishment, structure and management of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). The Act and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Regulation 2015 (Cth) set out the core powers and procedures of the AAT for all divisions (except for the Migration and Refugee Division).
The AAT can review Centrelink decisions through its Social Services and Child Support Division; it can review most decisions made by the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs through its Migration and Refugee Division. The AAT can also review decisions about Australian citizenship, Commonwealth workers’ compensation, The right of any person to access documents held by government agencies, except documents excluded by legislation., the National Disability Insurance Scheme, tax, and veterans’ pensions. The AAT’s General Division can To promise to do or not do something, such as returning to court on a certain day, or to hand a document over to another party in a legal proceeding. An undertaking is enforceable by attachment or like an injunction. a second review of some decisions made by other AAT divisions.
The Migration Review Tribunal, Refugee Review Tribunal, Social Money or property promised to be handed over as a guarantee for repayment of a loan, or as a guarantee that a defendant will meet their bail conditions. Appeals Tribunal and Classification Review Board have been amalgamated with the AAT.
The AAT conducts merits review of freedom of information matters, which was previously undertaken by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
For AAT’s contact details, see ‘Contacts’ at the end of this chapter.
Appealing a tribunal’s decision
The manner of appealing a tribunal’s decision varies. It is usually set out in the legislation that established the tribunal. The AAT hears appeals from most of the lesser specialist tribunals. An AAT decision can be reviewed by the Federal An independent body that hears legal claims brought by parties and decides between them. Serious cases are heard by a judge and jury, or just a judge. Less-serious cases are heard by a magistrate., but on very narrow grounds. For further information, visit AAT’s website at www.aat.gov.au.
A VCAT decision can be appealed to the Supreme Court, but only with the court’s leave, and only in relation to a question of law. For further information, visit VCAT’s website at www.vcat.vic.gov.au.
For more information about administrative appeals, see Chapter 12.2: Appealing government and administrative decisions.