On 22 November 2012, the Civil and Administrative Tribunal Bill 2012 (NSW) (the Bill) was introduced into the NSW Parliament. In his Second Reading Speech, the Attorney General and Minister for Justice (The Hon. Greg Smith SC), outlined that the aim of the Bill is to establish a Civil and Administrative Tribunal of New South Wales (the NCAT) to consolidate and replace various existing tribunals in order to reduce complexity, improve access to justice and provide an independent, transparent and accountable ‘one stop shop’ for minor disputes and review of administrative decisions.
The reforms come as a result of the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Law and Justice, which on 22 March 2012 released its report entitled “Opportunities to consolidate tribunals in NSW” (the Report). The Report was produced at the request of the Minister for Finance and Services (The Hon. Gregory Pearce), the Minister for Fair Trading (The Hon. Anthony Roberts) and the Attorney General and Minister for Justice to consider options in relation to consolidating the various tribunals in NSW.
Tribunals perform an important role within the justice system. They provide timely, efficient and flexible points of access for citizens seeking to resolve disputes or seeking to have executive action reviewed. They are also cheaper, faster and less formal than court proceedings. But the convoluted nature of the current tribunal system in NSW results in unnecessary duplication and creates confusion and inefficiencies. Currently, many of the separate tribunals maintain their own infrastructure, including separate facilities and separate administrative structures.
If the Bill is passed, the government has identified 23 tribunals or other bodies that will be consolidated and join the NCAT from 1 January 2014. These include some of the larger and better-known tribunals, such as the:
- Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal;
- Administrative Decisions Tribunal; and
- Guardianship Tribunal.
A number of other tribunals, or other entities that exercise tribunal functions, will also join the NCAT, including the:
- Local Government Pecuniary Interest and Disciplinary Tribunal;
- Aboriginal Land Councils Pecuniary Interest and Disciplinary Tribunal;
- various local land boards established under the Crown Lands Act1989 (NSW);
- various health professional tribunals established under s 165 of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (NSW); and
- Charity Referees, who exercise certain functions under the Dormant Funds Act1942 (NSW).
The NCAT will also take over the functions of the Vocational Training Appeal Panel and will comprise five divisions:
- Consumer and Commercial;
- Administrative and Equal Opportunity;
- Occupational and Regulatory;
- Guardianship; and
- Victims Support