The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, or VCAT, was formed in 1998 by the Jeff Kennett-led State government. VCAT was formed to improve and streamline the delivery of civil law and dispute resolution services in Victoria. It was intended to be a ‘super tribunal’ or ‘one-stop shop’ for dealing with matters of civil and administrative law, including disputes about employment, finance, planning, tenancy and consumer complaints. It was hoped this would ease the pressure on Victoria’s courts, which were overworked and plagued with a huge backlog of criminal and civil law matters. VCAT was also intended to improve access to justice by creating facilities and systems that were easier to access, faster and more cost-effective than the traditional court system. VCAT’s methods have also encouraged and facilitated the use of new technologies, methods of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and more flexible methods of hearing and determining disputes.
VCAT’s jurisdiction is very broad and covers a diversity of areas of law. VCAT currently operates three divisions (Civil, Administrative and Human Rights). Within these divisions are 14 different lists, or sections, each of which deals with different types of issue. This makes VCAT the largest multi-purpose legal facility in Australia and one of the largest in the world. Some of the 14 lists currently in operation at VCAT are:
Civil Claims List (Civil Division). This list hears generic civil law disputes, such as negligence claims and property disputes. This includes small claims and consumer disputes, as determined by the Fair Trading Act (1999).
Real Property List (Civil Division). This list hears disputes related to real estate, particularly disputes between vendors, purchasers and/or real estate agents.
Residential Tenancies List (Civil Division). This list is specifically for disputes between tenants and landlords, such as breaches of tenancy agreements, leases and bonds.
Legal Practice List (Administrative Division). This list hears complaints and disputes between clients and their legal representatives, disciplinary matters against solicitors and barristers and matters relating to costs orders.
Occupational and Business Regulations List (Administrative Division). This list hears disciplinary proceedings and reviews of disciplinary rulings on individuals from a wide range of professions.
Taxation List (Administrative Division). This list hears disputes and appeals against decisions made by the State’s taxation authorities – but not matters related to Commonwealth taxation.
Mental Health List (Human Rights Division). This list hears disputes and conducts reviews into decisions made by the State’s mental health board, especially those that affect the rights of individuals.
VCAT employs a number of legal and administrative staff to manage and oversee hearings. The president of VCAT (currently Justice Greg Garde) is always a judge of the Supreme Court. It has 14 vice-presidents: all are County Court judges and are in charge of a particular list. Most VCAT hearings are overseen by either ‘members’ or ‘senior members’. These members are appointed to particular lists for their legal and professional knowledge and expertise in that field. While many are legally qualified, this is not essential. In the 2007-8 financial year, VCAT finalised almost 87,000 cases or disputes.