The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) was established in 2014 as a means of reducing the complexity involved where people need to interact with a government decision or legislation, or where they need an authority to decide a dispute.
To this end, the NCAT replaced 22 former tribunals and now operates with four divisions: Administrative and Equal Opportunity, Consumer and Commercial, Guardianship, and Occupational. These divisions deal with a wide range of matters, including reviews of decisions made by a government agency, anti-discrimination, consumer complaints, home building disputes, conveyancing costs disputes, retail lease disputes, appointment of guardians or financial managers, and tenancy disputes between tenants and landlords, among many other matters.
The aim of the NCAT is to provide an accessible, economic and effective mechanism to resolve common disputes. To this end, there a number of methods employed to prevent a matter proceeding to the stage of a hearing before the NCAT, though this article will focus on what occurs during an NCAT hearing.
Dispute resolution ahead of a hearing
Once an application to the NCAT is made, the Tribunal will assist parties to try and resolve the matter before the need for a hearing. This may take the form of an informal discussion, preliminary conferences, planning meetings and case conferences (in the Administrative and Equal Opportunity Division), conciliation (in the Consumer and Commercial Division) and mediation (in some Divisions, where suitable).
What happens when a matter proceeds to a hearing
Where other means are not able to resolve an application, the NCAT will move it to the hearing process where you, as the applicant, have the opportunity to make submissions, give and present evidence, and provide supporting documentation. The opposing party can do likewise. Based on this process, the Tribunal can then make a decision on the matter.
You will need to be properly prepared for an NCAT hearing as Tribunal members will ask questions about the evidence you submit in support of your case. They may also ask that your evidence is sworn or affirmed.
The hearing process will generally involve the applicant first providing verbal evidence, followed by the respondent. Any supporting documents need to be provided before the hearing to the Tribunal and the other party. Documents might include character references, medical reports, contracts, letters, emails, invoices, phone logs, minutes of meetings, plans and drawings, and photographs and film.
An affidavit or written statement serving as written evidence can also be provided to the NCAT before the hearing. An affidavit is a written record of your view of the facts in the case and needs to be sworn or affirmed in front of a Justice of the Peace (JP) or a solicitor. By contrast, a statement only needs to be signed by the person who writes it and does not have to be sworn or affirmed.
You may also call on the evidence of witnesses to support your case at an NCAT hearing. Witnesses can provide a statement or affidavit as part of the hearing or, in some cases, give evidence in person. Depending on your matter, you may engage an expert witness to provide a report or give in-person evidence at the hearing.
Where a person or organisation won’t provide you with information you need to include as evidence for the NCAT hearing, you can request a summons in order to procure that information.
The Tribunal member hearing the case will often make a decision on the day of the hearing though may reserve their decision until a later time in more complex cases. The decision will usually be delivered verbally with a brief outline of the reasons for their decision and the orders that will be made.
Once the decision is made, you can ask the NCAT within 28 days of the decision for a written statement of reasons for the decision. This statement should explain NCAT’s decisions on the facts, the law and how the Tribunal member came to the decision. By asking for this statement, you can extend the time you have to appeal the decision if it is unfavourable to you.
The wisdom of legal assistance
The set-up of the NCAT as a low cost and accessible means of resolving common disputes is designed to allow people who make applications to the Tribunal to represent themselves, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a legal representative present or engage them to help you prepare your application.
Because people are encouraged to represent themselves before the NCAT, you need to make a request if you wish to be represented by a lawyer in your matter. This request requires a letter in writing either before or at the time of the hearing that details:
- The file number and parties’ names;
- the reasons you would prefer to be represented;
- the name and occupation of the proposed representative and whether or not that person is a lawyer/solicitor;
- a statement that the proposed representative has your permission to make decisions in your absence that are binding on you.
Depending on the complexity of your application, it’s always advisable to seek the guidance and advice of a legal representative who has experience in representing clients before the NCAT.
Felicio Law Firm has conducted many matters before the NCAT and can help you expertly prepare your application so that if you need to appear before the Tribunal, the chances of success in your matter are much higher. Contact us today on (02) 4365 4249 if you have any questions about NCAT hearings.