Will you need to go to QCAT?06 July 2009 Topics: Litigation and dispute resolution
A great number of complex legal disputes involving a variety of industries are determined in Queensland tribunals these days. Often the rules do not allow parties to have legal representation as a matter of right and special permission needs to be sought to obtain the assistance of a lawyer. This will be the case with Queensland’s new “super tribunal” – to be known as QCAT or the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Queensland’s new “super tribunal”
From 1 December 2009 most of Queensland’s existing tribunals will be joined into QCAT.
Attorney General Cameron Dick has said that the introduction of QCAT “represents the most significant structural reform to Queensland’s justice system in 50 years”. QCAT will be divided into three separate divisions – human rights, administrative and disciplinary and civil disputes.
Twenty-three of the current tribunals and some of the functions of five other bodies will be amalgamated to form QCAT. The tribunals affected include the Commercial and Consumer Tribunal, the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal, the Guardianship and Administration Tribunal and the Retail Shop Leases Tribunal. The introduction of QCAT is likely to have the biggest impact on the small claim and minor debt jurisdictions of the Magistrates Court, which are to form part of the civil disputes division of QCAT from 1 December 2009.
The types of disputes that may be handled by QCAT include:
- discrimination cases;
- building and construction disputes;
- disputes involving property agents and motor dealers;
- disputes between landlords and tenants of retail shops; and
- disciplinary matters involving teachers, health practitioners and legal practitioners.
QCAT will be headed by a President who is a Supreme Court Judge and Deputy President who is a District Court Judge or a lawyer. There will be a core group of full time members, as well as some part time members. Members will be either legal practitioners or have specialised knowledge or experience in relation to one or more of the various types of matters to be heard by QCAT.
QCAT is intended to provide a more flexible and “user friendly” approach than the existing tribunal network. It is designed to increase the general community’s access to justice by streamlining the current minefield of processes and systems in place amongst Queensland’s various tribunal bodies.
Will you need to appear without a lawyer?
Like many existing tribunals, it is intended that parties to claims bought in QCAT will have to appear in person without legal representation. The tribunal will need to give specific consent if a party wants to be represented by a lawyer or agent.
The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal Bill 2009 (introduced into parliament on 19 May 2009) states that matters the tribunal will consider when deciding whether to let people be represented will include:
- the likely complexity of issues of fact and law in the proceeding;
- whether another party is represented.
The yet to be introduced “QCAT Rules” will further clarify how the issue of representation will be dealt with by QCAT. It is intended that these rules will specify the types of matters that warrant representation.
Those involved in industries which are routinely before existing Queensland tribunals – such as property agents or those in the building/construction industry – will need to come to grips with a new system which will determine many important legal disputes in Queensland.