My Justice Journey entailed two days at the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) where I shadowed people from the various divisions of QCAT. I sat in on and observed the practical processes of mediations and directions hearings, as well as discovering what goes on “behind the scenes” within areas such as the Human Rights Division, Operations Support, Appeals, Clients Services, and the Civil, Administrative and Disciplinary Division (CAD).
I began the first day of my journey by meeting with Peter Johnstone, the Alternate Dispute Resolution Manager. He explained the structure of QCAT to me by running through the judicial and registry sides of QCAT. This helped lay the framework for me as to the purpose of QCAT as well as the size of, and range of matters QCAT deals with. Following this, I was excited to hear that I was to observe some mediations.
Mediations are conducted fairly early on in the QCAT process to hopefully have the parties collaborate to reach an agreement on their civil matter without having to progress to a hearing. Within the mediations I observed, it was quite interesting to see the range of civil disputes that come into QCAT, as well as how two parties can go from a dispute to a resolution, in the form of an agreement, in just over an hour.
After lunch, I met with Darren Clark from the Human Rights Division (HuRD). Here Darren explained to me the role of HuRD and its various jurisdictions. Darren explained that HuRD looks after three areas: guardianship, anti-discrimination and review matters involving children and young people. I met with a case manager, who informed me of QCAT’s role in guardianship matters where adults with impaired decision-making capacity can have a guardian appointed to make decisions for that person in respect of matters such as health and accommodation or an administrator appointed for financial matters. It was good to hear that guardians and administrators are subject to review and numerous checks and balances to ensure the best interests and welfare of the person is maintained. This part of my journey was a good learning experience as I did not know human rights matters fell under QCAT’s jurisdiction, so it was good to hear how guardianship, discrimination and children’s matters are dealt with.
"This part of my journey was a good learning experience as I did not know human rights matters fell under QCAT’s jurisdiction..."
To finish off my first day I met with the Operations Support Team, where I met Paul Hellen, the Operations Support Manager, the Scheduling Team and Hearing Support Officers (HSOs). It was quite impressive to see how much planning and effort goes into coordinating a hearing. In respect to pre-hearing, the Scheduling Team showed me the intricacies of allocating hearing dates for matters to both a location and a member to hear them. When all this had been allocated, I got to see a HSO in action in a directions hearing, where they ensure the hearing process runs smoothly with duties such as bringing parties into the tribunal room, connecting parties via telephone and writing down orders. Finishing off my first day I had an exciting time in mediations, learning about HuRD matters, and seeing how everything comes together, so I was eager to experience my second day at QCAT.
L to R:Paul Hellem, Bradley, and Darren Clark.
Returning on my second day, my morning was to be spent with Senior Member Ian Brown in directions hearings. I began by spending around an hour before going into hearings with the Senior Member’s Associate who explained to me the various duties they undertake. This was really insightful, as the associates had only been students like myself only last year and to hear their experiences working with a senior member, the practical skills it gave them and the support they received from the members themselves really intrigued me. After meeting with the associates, I was off to observe Senior Member Brown presiding over directions hearings.
Directions hearings showed me the process in which parties progress through the tribunal process, where at early stages they are directed as to their next step toward reaching a resolution. Directions came in different forms, such as directions as to evidence statements or discovery, or in the instance of tree disputes, to enlist an expert arborist to assess trees. In other cases, to direct parties to compulsory conferences/mediations so they can attempt to resolve their issue without it progressing to a hearing. I feel these hearings are good in that they help the client be guided as to how to reach a resolution and offers ways to quickly resolve the issue by directing parties to mediations as opposed to heading to a hearing.
After directions hearings, I was sent over to Brett Newsome, the Client Services Manager of QCAT. Brett introduced me to the areas of client services - support/data entry, client services (i.e. phone operators) and minor civil disputes. I then got to spend time with support and client services. Here I got to see how people make their first contact with QCAT by observing operators taking calls and resolving questions and queries. I also got to see how cases progress into the system, by meeting with the data entry team who process claims into the QCAT system and liaise with clients to ensure the correct paperwork is filled and filed. This was a nice part of my journey as it allowed me to see the beginning process of peoples’ claims.
"...to hear their experiences working with a senior member, the practical skills it gave them and the support they received from the members themselves really intrigued me".
My final destination of my Justice Journey was with the Civil, Administrative and Disciplinary Division (CAD). I spent my time meeting with some of the members of CAD, who explained to me that CAD is a division of QCAT which deals with the case management of numerous jurisdictions ranging from body corporate, building disputes and tree disputes, to appeals of disciplinary matters of professionals – this really showed me the vast array of issues QCAT deals with. I was able to sit with some members as they worked through cases such as review of disciplinary action of legal practitioners. This was really interesting to me as someone who will progress into the profession and to hear of the various misconduct matters and how review of a professional board decision is undertaken. It was also quite astonishing to see the pure amount of paperwork and filing that goes into dealing with the matters; where everything needs to be written down and archived. Overall CAD was interesting as it showed me QCAT didn’t just deal with very minor civil disputes, but also filled the role of case managing, review and assessing appeals on a large range of matters.
Bradley and Senior Member Ian Brown.
Overall, my Justice Journey with QCAT really opened my eyes as to the nature, breadth and extent of QCAT as a legal organisation, and how the lay person travels through it. Being able to observe mediations and directions hearings really allowed me to meet and see the average person travelling through the tribunal process - it showed me the nature of QCAT as a “People’s tribunal” where parties generally didn’t have legal backgrounds. It was very interesting to see how the tribunal assisted parties while remaining impartial, as well to see the administrative side of things. To see how everything comes together was really eye-opening. Client Services allowed me to see how people initially make contact with QCAT and how their matter enters the system; in CAD I learnt the true extent of matters QCAT deals with; with HuRD I was able to see how cases are managed and appeals are assessed, and; then to see how operations coordinated with all of these to ensure every matter was allocated without issue. I went into my journey viewing QCAT as a fairly formal judicial hearing-based organisation only dealing with minor civil matters, and left seeing the tribunal as a large organisation dealing with a large array of matters. QCAT helps the lay person access the justice system and resolve their matter more quickly and economically than if they were to travel through the court system, while still being subject to law.