What is the Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2023?
The Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 was introduced into the Victorian Parliament in August 2023, and has just recently passed both houses. The Bill was enacted with the purpose of effecting significant amendments across various facets of the Victorian legal system, and clarifying procedural and jurisdictional issues under the VCAT’s purview.
Among the diverse array of areas that this omnibus Bill encompasses, there are a few notable sections pertaining to the VCAT and the courts. Listed are some key highlights of the new legislation, which will be expanded in more depth throughout the article.
Key highlights of the new legislation:
- Time limitations do not apply to a case transferred from the VCAT to the courts pursuant to s 77
- Expanded class of people in the VCAT able to refer cases to the courts
- Contributory negligence and contribution claims are now within the VCAT’s jurisdiction
Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998 (Vic) (VCAT Act)
The proposed changes to the VCAT Act come after issues arose in Thurin v Krongold, originally heard in the VCAT, and other Supreme Court decisions. The Bill confirms a procedural precedent that arose in Krongold v Thurin  VSCA 191, which is that a referral from the VCAT to the Courts pursuant to s 77 does not constitute the bringing of an action for the purpose of time limits in the Building Act 1993 (Vic). Such matters do not constitute new cases, but rather represent a continuation of the original proceedings.
The Bill also expands the class of members allowed to refer a case to the Courts, extending this prerogative to presidential members, or senior members that have been an Australian lawyer for not less than 5 years. This expanded scope is anticipated to enhance the VCAT’s capacity to facilitate the efficient transfer of cases to the Court.
Wrongs Act 1958 (Vic) (Wrongs Act)
The Bill introduces provisions permitting the VCAT to adjudicate on contribution claims and contributory negligence claims. Previously, in cases like Vaughan Constructions Pty Ltd v Melbourne Water Corporation (Building and Property)  VCAT 233 (Vaughan), these two issues were found to be outside of the jurisdiction of the VCAT, due to specific wording in the Wrongs Act.
Additionally, the Bill allows for retrospective validation for all prior cases concerning contribution claims and contributory negligence that were heard within the VCAT. Without this validation, major issues would arise due to the possibility that the decisions of these prior cases would be rendered invalid.
Limitation of Actions Act 1958 (Vic) (Limitations Act)
The amendment to this Act mandates that the VCAT will be subject to the same limitation of action rules as the Courts. This will foster more uniformity and coherence between the VCAT and the courts.
Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995 (Vic) (DBC Act)
Section 57 of the DBC Act designates the VCAT as the principal forum for the adjudication of domestic building disputes, further stipulating that the Court must stay any of its domestic building disputes if they can be resolved within the VCAT, on certain conditions. However, complications may arise where a dispute may involve federal law, and the case must be sent back from the VCAT to the Courts again, as the VCAT does not have jurisdiction over federal matters.
This Bill seeks to fix this issue, by providing that the Court does not have to stay such an action if it raises, or if the Court has reasonable grounds to anticipate that it will raise, an issue involving federal law. This is intended to streamline the resolution of building disputes by preventing unnecessary and lengthy transferrals, while still allowing the Court to refer a matter back to the VCAT if pertinent.
The Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 represents a significant milestone in the ongoing evolution of the Victorian legal system, addressing key challenges and fostering a more streamlined and coherent approach to our legal system. Hopefully, with the enactment of this Bill into law, the holes that have been poked into the VCAT’s procedural and legal framework will be resolved, and VCAT can concert more effort onto settling disputes and achieving justice.
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