Update on VCAT Hearings
The Victorian Planning & Environmental Law Association held a seminar this morning in relation to the Government’s recent Omnibus bill.
Of particular interest to us was the inclusion of Justice Michelle Quigley QC, who is the President of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), who spoke about how VCAT is planning to use/implement the $5.2 million in funding they have received to “digitize” their functions.
Specifically, Justice Quigley QC advised as follows:
- Every hearing which has been adjourned since the closure of VCAT as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic have been “triaged”, insofar as they are being given priority for re-listing once physical hearings/video-hearing facilities are made available;
- Whilst the Tribunal has indicated that all hearings up until 15 May 2020 will be adjourned, it appears that this may extend to matters post 15 May 2020. The Tribunal will try and facilitate teleconference hearings for these matters but there will be some which are not suited to this and thus, will be adjourned;
- The Tribunal’s digital platform and funding relates to the Planning and Environment List only and must be rolled out within the next 12 weeks (meaning by the end of July at the latest);
- Once social distancing measures are relaxed, there are physical constraints at 55 King St (i.e. room sizes) which means that not all of its rooms and hearing rooms can be utilized and thus, there will be a reduced capacity for in-person hearings;
- Guidelines/Practice notes will shortly be released for hearings on the papers (we expect within the next few days);
- Some key changes being made to the listing of matters were announced as follows:
- The Short Cases List is being “revamped” and detail on matters which would qualify for inclusion on this list will be released shortly;
- The Major Cases List is also being amended so that all applications no longer automatically receive a Practice Day hearing. Instead, parties will need to apply to the Tribunal requesting a Practice Day hearing if they wish one to be listed and outline the reasons why such Practice Day hearing is required;
- All objector appeals will be listed for compulsory conference (this may need to be via video-hearing or tele-hearing if a physical compulsory conference is not feasible;
- The Tribunal has obtained further administrative resources and allocated these to the Planning and Environment List so that all matters lodged in the last 6 weeks (which have not received initiating orders) will be processed and new hearings listed. Our office has already started receiving such orders.
What this means for you
It is clear that VCAT is now tasked to ensure that the Planning & Environment List continues to list and hear planning appeals and that Applicants who have been affected by recent adjournments are given priority in the new listing/hearing formats.
The difficulty we continue to face is the involvement of third parties in these matters, particularly those who might not have access to electronic resources needed to participate in alternate hearing arrangements. We appreciate the difficulty the Tribunal has in ensuring procedural fairness in this regard and look forward to them taking more of an active role in listing matters rather than allowing parties to try and agree on arrangements between themselves. An option which could be considered for matters involving third parties without access to online means is those third parties being permitted to attend VCAT in person (whilst adhering to any social distancing requirements in place) with others appearing online.
We welcome the changes being made to the Short Cases List and objector appeals and will continue to keep you updated of developments at the Tribunal as they come to hand.
For any questions as to how any of these changes may affect your existing or upcoming planning appeal, please do not hesitate to contact our office.
About Best Hooper – Victoria’s Property, Planning and Land Development Advisory Law Firm
Best Hooper are the oldest and most prominent developer focused law firm in Victoria who have served our community since 1886; through wars, recessions, depressions and pandemics. We are actively advising clients in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak on all property related matters including leasing, disputes, property transactions and planning advices and applications. We are continuously recognised as industry leaders in a variety of publications, including Doyles Guide and Best Lawyers.
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