The benefits of choosing QCAT
It can be confusing and at times overwhelming trying to work out how, or where, to proceed to protect your legal rights. It is therefore important to understand how the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) operates, and when it might be right for you.
The QCAT as we know it today has been described as a ‘super tribunal’. This is reflective of the fact that the QCAT was developed to consolidate 18 previously separate tribunals into a single body with jurisdiction over a wide range of subject matters, from debt disputes to the review of decisions made by government bodies.
As the QCAT is a tribunal rather than a court, matters are considered and decisions made by members rather than judges. A member does not need to be a legal practitioner, they do need to be, in the opinion of the Minister, a suitably qualified person.
Differences between QCAT and Court actions
A key difference between a proceeding in QCAT and a proceeding in the courts is the principle that, in general, parties in the QCAT are not legally represented. This is a reflection of the efforts to make the QCAT process less formal than a court action. Should a party wish to have legal representation an application must be lodged with QCAT seeking leave, which may or may not be granted depending on the circumstances.
In addition, as QCAT is not a court, it is not bound by the rules of evidence which can at times be quite complex and present difficulties for self-represented litigants in court proceedings. Again this serves to simply the process.
Advantages of QCAT
In considering the matters before it, the stated aim of QCAT is to assist the parties to resolve the dispute in a manner that is impartial and fair, while at the same time providing those services in a timely and cost effective manner in a way that the courts cannot.
To keep matters proceeding toward a resolution in QCAT, the tribunal is much more involved in setting down timeframes for the parties. Where courts rely upon parties to comply with the timeframes set down in legislation, QCAT will issue what are known as ‘directions’. These direct the parties to perform certain actions, for example providing evidence to one another and QCAT by a certain date. As an effect, the matters in QCAT will often proceed on a much shorter timeframe and a much more orderly fashion.
A further advantage of QCAT is that as part of the procedure, parties will often be directed to attend what is known as a compulsory conference. This is, in effect, mediation where a Member assists the parties to consider the issues in dispute, offers a view on the risks of proceeding to a hearing and helps the parties explore alternative options to resolve the dispute.
This can result in the parties arriving at an agreement without having to spend the time or incur the costs of taking the matter to a contested hearing.
When QCAT may be right for you
The most common use of QCAT is for minor civil disputes, such as a debt dispute up to a limit of $25,000.00 – although any order of QCAT in relation to a debt dispute would still need to be enforced through the Courts. However, if you have been the subject of an adverse decision by a government body, such as a decision by the Queensland Construction and Building Commission in relation to a building licence, QCAT is a commonly used avenue to have the decision reviewed.
Streten Masons Lawyers has a wide range of experience in advising clients on the circumstances where it is appropriate to proceed in QCAT or the courts, and in advising on recovery of orders made by QCAT. For advice on pursuing your matter in QCAT or elsewhere, contact our office on (07) 3667 8966.