By: Adam Ioannidis

As premium building cost consultants, we see commercial and residential disputes occur regularly. These disputes can range from a contractor not being paid for their work on a job, or the carried-out work not being what was agreed upon in the contract. If you feel you’ve fallen under the umbrella that requires legal action to be taken, then there are special tribunals tailored specifically to resolve cases such as these. The Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) and the NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) deal with civil and administrative legal cases less formally than the Supreme Court would. Today, our building cost consultants will be reviewing some of the key differences between VCAT/NCAT and the Supreme Court and tallying up which one may be a better option for you.

The differences in legal representation

For the Victorian/NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunals, the process is much more relaxed than that of the Supreme Court. For starters, you do not need legal representation if you do not wish to. In fact, it is encouraged that you represent yourself. If you would like legal representation, then that is also accepted. However, you will need permission from VCAT/NCAT and must supply sufficient reason for hiring representation. The tribunal will not provide you with representation in any instance and you will have to find your own. For VCAT, there is a process called automatic right to representation. This means that you will not have to gain permission for representation if you are a:

  • Child;
  • Body corporate;
  • Municipal council;
  • Credit provider;
  • Public authority;
  • Statutory office holder;
  • Government representative or minister; or a
  • Builder’s warranty issuer.

In the Supreme Court, you may also represent yourself (the exception to this is that companies must be represented by a lawyer during an appeal) but – unlike VCAT/NCAT – it is not actively encouraged, and you may not get far without familiarising yourself with the relevant law and legal terminology. If you choose to represent yourself in the Supreme Court, then you will be known as a Self-Represented Litigant (SRL).

VCAT/NCAT is the go-to for construction-related disputes

Although the Supreme Court will hear the matters, they are also the highest board of authority within their states. With this in mind, it is generally more beneficial to opt for VCAT/NCAT first, as they’re much cheaper and less formal proceedings. The tribunals typically go between one and two hours, and will consist of facing three panel members who will be familiar with the area that the case falls under. One of the defining factors of the Victorian/NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunals is that they strongly encourage that an agreement should be reached between the two parties before any legal action or hearings are undertaken.

Even right up to the last moment before the final hearing begins, the tribunal member may push for an agreement. An agreement can be reached at any time between the two parties. In both the Victorian and NSW Supreme Courts, mediation may be offered as an alternative. This is similar to an agreement being reached with VCAT/NCAT, however, this is a much more formal proceeding as there is an appointed mediator to help with the discussions. Mediation can only be performed if it is ordered by the court. A matter may be referred to mediation at any time before the court. 

Appealing a VCAT/NCAT decision in the Supreme Court

An appeal can only be made if there was a legal mistake made in the original tribunal by a VCAT/NCAT member. An appeal cannot be made if the person is unhappy with the decision or for any other reason. The appeal must be made within 28 days of the original VCAT/NCAT decision.

Know your options

At Accent Estimating, our building cost consultants are knowledgeable and experienced with the legalities of the industry, and will work to ensure that no contracts are breached during your construction project. We are well-versed with both VCAT and NCAT tribunal matters and will be able to offer you expert advice should you ever find yourself needing to attend. Our building cost consultants can also offer you premium and tailored estimating services for your residential, commercial or industrial building projects.

If you would like to know more about NCAT/VCAT – or some of our other estimating or quantity surveying services – then please do not hesitate to contact one of our building cost consultants on 0413 953 869. You may also get in touch by filling out the enquiry form on our website.