A MERGER of the various ACT tribunals would improve their efficiency said Peter Quinton, director of the civil law group at the ACT’s Department of Justice and Community Safety.
“One of our big problems here is we are such a small place and some of our tribunals have not sat in living memory so we have members of our tribunals who have never had any experience and so I think what will happen will probably be in part dictated by the size of the place that we are,” he said.
“Generally the staff associated with those sorts of inactive or rarely active tribunals also undertake other work, but there is that real inefficiency when they have to drop their normal work and take up the work of the tribunal. It’s not just the tribunal members trying to work out what they do but also the registry staff trying to invent their job without the benefit of the corporate knowledge that larger tribunals have.”
Submissions in response to the Department of Justice and Community Safety discussion paper on reform of the tribunals were due this week. The discussion paper put forward six options for reform ranging from consolidation of the registries, through to setting up a super tribunal similar to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Quinton said that consolidating registries was a sensible option. “Where you have a tribunal that only has one staff member or two staff members — which is more common than not in the ACT — the loss temporarily or permanently of that staff member can be a pretty savage blow to the jurisdiction, and they take some time to recover. We’ve seen that on numerous occasions in the ACT.
“So, consolidating registries to establish sensible cultures and support for registry staff [is important]. Because registry staff are very, very important in relation to tribunals — they tend to be overlooked and a little bit underestimated but like the rest of civil processes they are pretty important,” he said.
Greg Walker, president of the Law Society of the ACT, agreed that some sort of consolidation could lead to improved efficiencies but said cost-saving measures should not be behind any merger of the tribunals.
“It’s probably fair to say that the law society would take the view that the saving of money ought not to be the purpose of this amalgamation. There are other benefits and efficiencies that may well flow from it — but if it’s merely done as a money saving exercise it will probably reduce the quality of the justice that is dispensed. But I think the department sees it as something that will be revenue-neutral and will provide some efficiencies and hopefully some greater effectiveness of the tribunals,” Walker said.