It is the end of an era in the Queensland Planning and Environment Court (Court) with John Taylor retiring from his post as the Court’s alternative dispute resolution (ADR) Registrar. Mr Taylor was first appointed to the position in 2009 and has had a significant impact on the jurisdiction since that time. As we welcome the new ADR Registrar, Steve Adams, it is fitting to briefly reflect upon the evolution of the role.

EVOLUTION OF THE ROLE

The ADR Registrar provides convenient and efficient access to Court supervised ADR procedures for parties involved in planning and environment proceedings.  In addition to this main function, the ADR Registrar also contributes to the administrative functions of the Court. Some of the more notable improvements the ADR Registrar has made in this area include:

  • providing online access to Court documents across all registries;
  • introducing an online calendar to facilitate scheduling conferences with the ADR Registrar; and
  • streamlining the process for adjournments on the papers.

With these processes and functions, the ADR Registrar has brought efficiency to the jurisdiction resulting in cost savings to parties.

Following the success of ADR Registrar supervised conferences, which have resulted in fewer matters proceeding to trial, the ADR Registrar was granted the power to make orders and directions to advance an appeal. This practice has been welcomed by the profession as it avoids the need to return to Court after a conference and has cost benefits for parties to litigation where directions can be made by consent.

HEARING CASES

The ADR Registrar now also has the power to hear and decide appropriate matters. However, the ADR Registrar cannot hear a matter which has already advanced to a Court supervised without prejudice conference. For this reason, and other questions of legal strategy, parties must carefully consider whether a hearing by the ADR Registrar is the most suitable path for their matter.

Despite a hearing before the ADR Registrar likely being more cost efficient compared to a contested hearing before a judge, such hearings have not been widely taken up. 

One case which was heard by the ADR Registrar is West v Brisbane City Council. This matter involved a refusal by Brisbane City Council of a development application to demolish a pre-1946 house in an area where demolition required Council approval (a demolition control precinct). The ADR Registrar reversed the Council’s decision and approved the demolition of the house. However, that was not the end of the matter and a review of the ADR Registrar’s decision was sought from the Court.  As a consequence of the review process, the Court:

  • confirmed that the ADR Registrar had the power to hear and decide an appeal; and
  • decided that the proposed demolition could not be approved, having regard to the merits of the case.

This matter highlights that the ADR Registrar has broad powers to decide appropriate development applications in a less formal and often more economical environment compared to a contested hearing before a judge. However, where the ADR Registrar’s decision is challenged more costs may be incurred by the parties than if a matter had proceeded to a judge hearing in the first instance. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

The addition of the ADR Registrar to the Planning and Environment Court has without a doubt been a positive contribution to dispute resolution in planning and environment proceedings. The ADR Registrar’s administrative and ADR functions are an integral part of the jurisdiction. However, the ADR Registrar’s true potential to efficiently and effectively resolve appropriate matters through a hearing continues to evolve.