VICTORIA LAW SCHOOL
BLB1101 ALSIC – VCAT-CENTRED ASSIGNMENT
PART A CASENOTE
Juan Carlos Acevedo Rodriguez v Spot On Motors 2018 VCAT C1210
Background facts and central issue
The applicant (Rodriguez) sought the Tribunal’s counsel over compensation regarding a second hand faulty van purchased from Spot On Motors. Rodriguez purchased a Hyundai iLoad 2012 and a $1000 repair warranty from Spot On Motors on August 8th 2017 for $10’500. Within the following four months, the van broke down and experienced brake and engine issues seven times. On December 20th, the van’s engine failed and was no longer roadworthy. The applicant was issued a quote to repair the engine for $7000. They were then informed by the insurance that the form had been filled out incorrectly by Spot On Motors and was not valid to cover any cost for repairs.
The applicant’s central claim was Spot On Motors knew the van had a ‘major failure’ upon sale, and that Spot On Motors took advantage of English being the applicant’s second language to fill out the insurance form for him incorrectly. The applicant sought $18’000 from the respondent; for the purchase price of the van, the quote to make the van roadworthy, and a $500 registration fee.
The applicant supplied the Tribunal with a handwritten contract which declared that the respondent would pay for all repairs resulting from issues with the van before sale. The respondent denied that it was an official document and denied that it was his signature. The applicant supplied an invoice slip written as a quote dated December 20th to the Tribunal, indicating it would cost $7000 to repair the engine. The respondent claimed that quotes are not recorded in this manner as invoices are only dated for the day a repair is done. The respondent also provided the Tribunal with a roadworthy certificate valid on the day of sale and an inspection note supplied by ABS Motors for August 4th 2017 where it was recorded the only repairs needed for the van before sale were the replacement of the number plate globes.
Decision and reasoning
Due to the lack of written evidence, the Tribunal needed to hear from the mechanics involved. As this would take another day, the Tribunal urged the applicant and respondent to agree to a settlement. The applicant could not rely on the Motor Car Traders Act for remuneration as the van had been driven more than 160’000km (229’478km on the day of sale) and was also outside the 3 month warranty limit. The applicant had also failed in his duty to complete adequate inspections of the vehicle before purchase and inspection of the contracts he signed for insurance.
As the parties could not come to an agreement themselves, the Tribunal urged the respondent to make an offer and the applicant to take a loss. The applicant accepted a payment of $2500 and the case was struck out.
PART B ESSAY
VCAT provides an efficient and effective method to resolving civil disputes through the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution.
Background Of VCAT And Its Purpose
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, established under the Victorian Civil And Administrative Tribunal Act 1998 has within its 20 year history become the busiest tribunal in Australia, resolving issues in civil, human rights and administrative divisions. Its scope contains original and review jurisdiction, as it is a tribunal ‘creature of statute’ and thus does not contain inherent jurisdiction. It is a tribunal, and not a court, thus is often the first step for many to achieving justice when a civil dispute arises.
Efficacy And Efficiency Of VCAT
VCAT’s efficacy and efficiency are due to its approachability, lack of jargon, low cost, and a narrowing of the gap between the lay man and the magistrate, which is so often widened by high cost, intimidating procedural methods and difficulties in accessing justice in the community. The VCAT User Service Charter created by Justice Kellam “identifies the tribunal’s purpose as providing Victorians with a tribunal that delivers a modern, accessible, informal, efficient and cost effective civil justice service”. Parties often represent themselves, and can dress in plain clothes. Cases hold a more informal manner than typically found in the courts. Members invite parties to speak for themselves, and how the civil issue has affected them. Matters are also often quickly resolved without a drawn out process. For example in Rodriguez v Spot On Motors 2018, what may have spanned for months, cost thousands of dollars in legal fees, and caused a great commercial disruption to both parties; was instead resolved after two hours, and an amicable settlement was agreed upon. Only 0.1% of VCAT cases are appealed in the Supreme Court of Victoria which highlights the tribunal’s efficiency and efficacy as a successful manner of alternative dispute resolution. This is considerable when VCAT hears around 90’000 cases a year.
VCAT’s statute has been officially annotated six times, highlighting its malleability to changing case law and new legal developments. Victoria’s and thus VCAT’s jurisdiction clearly grows each year, resulting in amendments to both the VCAT Act and the VCAT rules, resulting in a ‘clear and incisive treatment of important developments’. A malleable tribunal with a fast judgement process creates a system of modernity within Victorian jurisdiction, as the law can more efficiently uphold different and new legal processes facing the state. For example, VCAT has a discretion to regulate its own procedure. Whilst the matter must not constitute a departure from natural justice, judicial discretion aids the Tribunal’s intention to ensure proceedings and fair and done in an orderly manner, and thus delivering an efficient, modern and accessible service adapted to the layman of Victoria, with as “little formality and technicality as possible”. However, the limitations of its jurisdiction has often proven conflicting with the scope of matters VCAT can legally assess, as VCAT can only act on legal processes. For example, VCAT currently has no legal right to rule on general common law or equitable claims.
VCAT Accessibility Limitations
To analyse VCAT’s efficacy, one must question if the tribunal is achieving its intended purpose. Is VCAT truly accessible and effective across all Victorian society? Justice Kevin Bell asked whether there was equal access to VCAT specifically within regional Victoria, querying ‘are all sides to a dispute able to come to the Tribunal to present their case; do people in the outer suburbs of Melbourne and in regional and country Victoria have the same ready access as people in urban Melbourne?”. This is particularly important in regards to Koori engagement within alternative dispute resolution. An Australasian Tribunal Inquiry found that there was ‘significant evidence at a cross-sector level across Victoria that Aboriginal people do not equitably access, or receive equitable outcomes from, the standard service delivery models of ‘mainstream’ services at VCAT. At least 80% of Aboriginal respondents did not attend their tribunal hearings. Subsequently, VCAT have produced an action plan intended to be put into effect this year including the appointment of a “Koori Engagement Project Officer”. This hopefully proves to be a positive step in the direction of an equitably accessible VCAT.
As stated by Justice Kevin Bell, alternative dispute resolution is ‘the most practised – pioneered – at VCAT’. Despite its limitations in jurisdiction and its struggle to create equitable accessibility, it is undeniable that VCAT has entrenched an efficient and effective method of resolving disputes via ADR. Due to its success, many courts and tribunals are similarly implementing methods of ADR operation, including governmental substantive additional funding to the implementation of ADR as a “legitimate mechanism” for case resolution. There are points of inclusivity and accessibility that must be addressed such as Koori involvement and regional limitations in VCAT, but Victoria can only profit from a state-wide dedication to follow the success of VCAT’s integration of alternative dispute resolution into the broader legal community.
About VCAT (2018) VCAT <https://www.vcat.vic.gov.au/about-vcat>
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Motor vehicle sales and repairs An industry guide to the Australian Consumer Law(2013) Australian Consumer Law Report <https://www.accc.gov.au/system/files/Motor%20vehicle%20sales%20%26%20repairs%20-%20an%20industry%20guide%20to%20the%20Austalian%20Consumer%20Law.pdf>
Bell, Kevin, ‘The role of VCAT in a changing world: the President’s review of VCAT’ (Speech delivered at the LIV Seminar “Advance Civil Litigation”, Victorian Bar, 4 September 2008).
Council of Australasian Tribunals, “Victorian Civil And Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) – Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Engagement Project” (Price Waterhouse Coopers Indigenous Consulting Pty Ltd, 2017)
King, Michael, ‘Still Not A Court: Limitations To VCAT’s Expanded Jurisdiction’ (2013) 87(5) Law Institute Journal, 30
Morris, Stuart, ‘VCAT Practices and Procedures: Recent Developments’ (Speech delivered at the LIV Seminar “Launch of Pizer’s Annotated VCAT Act 2nd Edition”, VCAT, 20 July 2004)
Pizer, Jason, ‘The VCAT – The Distinguishing And Notable Features Of The “One-Stop Shop”‘ (Speech delivered at the LIV Seminar “VCAT and the Courts”, Victorian Bar, 15 April 2004)
Pizer, Jason and Emrys Nekvapil, Pizer’s Annotated VCAT Act (Thomas Reuters Australia Limited, 6th Ed, 2017)
VCAT, “VCAT Koori Inclusion Action Plan 2017-18” (VCAT, 2017)
Body Corporate Strata Plan No. 334479D v Scolaro’s Concrete Constructions Pty Ltd 2000 VCAT 45
Rodriguez v Spot On Motors 2018 VCAT C1102
Rumpf v Mornington Peninsula SC (2000) 2 VR 69 74
Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012 (Vic)
Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) s 2
Motor Car Traders Act 1986 (Vic) s 54
Victorian Civil And Administrative Tribunal Act 1998 (Vic)