While there are some obvious advantages and disadvantages to the respective processes of courts and VCAT, the existence of both ensures that a variety of cases are dealt with in an appropriate manner.
Alternative dispute resolution methods, which are used in VCAT proceedings, are considerably cheaper than court proceedings. When accessing the courts, parties do not only pay court fees but also solicitors’ and barristers’ fees, and possibly jury fees. As such, VCAT is much more accessible to Victorians, and particularly to low-income earners
It is also quicker to solve a dispute through VCAT than to solve it through the courts. For instance, cases under VCAT’s Residential Tenancies List generally take four weeks from application to completion of the hearing.1 By contrast, courts notoriously experience delays. Parties need to prepare cases and go through lengthy pre-hearing procedures meaning that cases may take months or even years before actually reaching court.
Methods used at VCAT, such as mediation and conciliation, are far less formal than courts. For instance, there are no wigs and robes, the third party does not sit at an elevated position and strict rules of evidence and procedure do not exist. This can be appropriate for parties whom require an ongoing relationship after resolving their dispute. Because these procedures do not involve a ‘win-lose’ scenario, and parties are in control of resolving their own case, they are more likely to cooperate and work towards a mutually agreeable resolution. As such, after hearings, parties will be more willing to fulfil the terms of their agreement. However, this informality is not appropriate for all cases. If there is a power imbalance between the two parties, and one acted to exert more influence over the other, an collaborative resolution may not be at all just. Conversely, if these parties used the courts, its formal nature, including strict rules of evidence and procedure, would ensure that each party is treated equally, and that the judge’s decision, as an informal third party, would not reflect the power imbalance between the parties. Additionally, some parties may not wish to have an ongoing relationship. For example, a civil claim relating to a sexual assault would not be appropriate for VCAT. The informality could be traumatic for the victim. An adversarial court approach, in which only one party would have to act to resolve the dispute, would be more appropriate in such a situation.
Courts and VCAT have different jurisdictions, and as such, their legal staff are trained to deal with their areas of specialisation. The ability to specialise reduces delays in the legal system as a whole. However, this also means that parties to a dispute may be unable to use the legal system in the manner they desire.
Strengths and weaknesses of law-making through the courts
Dispute resolution methods used by courts and VCAT
VCAT, VCAT Performance, http://www.vcat.vic.gov.au/about-vcat/vcat-performance ↩
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