As 2014 draws to a conclusion, we note some recent changes to process and procedure at VCAT that will be relevant for hearings in 2015.
On 2 February 2015, VCAT will introduce new initiating orders for all matters in the Planning and Environment List in a bid to provide parties with greater certainty in preparing for a hearing.
The orders will be issued at the outset of a proceeding and will specify the dates for hearing and any compulsory conference or mediation. The future timeline of the proceeding such as dates for filing of expert material or circulating amended plans will also be set out in the initiating orders, providing parties with more time to prepare for hearings, engage witnesses or experts and amend plans.
To facilitate this new approach applicants will be required to supply VCAT with all documents that support their application such as copies of the permit application, plans and supporting material lodged with the responsible authority as well as the name of the relevant planning scheme and overlay, whether there were any objections and whether there is a cultural heritage management plan.
Some matters, such as enforcement matters and cancellation or amendment applications from non-permit holders, will be referred to an initial practice day hearing rather than given a hearing date.
We welcome this new approach adopted by VCAT. Currently, parties are not provide with a hearing date or directions on filing of material until some time after an application is filed, creating uncertainty in preparing for hearing. The proposed initiating orders will allow for experts to be engaged in a timely manner and set clear timelines for the future conduct of the proceeding including filing of expert evidence and circulation of amended plans.
VCAT Practice Note on Expert Evidence
A new version of Practice Note PN VCAT 2 came into effect on 1 October 2014 which follows the introduction of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Amendment Act 2014 (No 23 of 2014) (Act) on 2 June 2014. The Act granted the Tribunal extensive powers in relation to expert evidence and the updated practice note is now to be read in conjunction with those powers set out in Schedule 3 of the Act.
Schedule 3 of the Act provides, amongst other things, the Tribunal with the power to:
- restrict expert evidence to matters which are reasonably required to resolve the proceedings;
- direct experts in relation to the preparation, time for service and contents of their expert reports; and
- order experts to meet with or without the parties to the proceeding or their legal practitioners being present.
Experts engaged to give evidence should be mindful of the changes to the Practice Note and aware of all powers of the Tribunal in relation to expert evidence under Schedule 3 of the Act.