The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our way of life dramatically. As the pandemic continues, it’s impacting our community in many different and difficult ways. We have seen a lot of our daily activities going digital and online. Schools suspended all face-to-face teaching, doctors moved to consultations over the phone and majority of us are now working from home with meetings taking place over video conferences. All to protect the health and wellbeing of our community. These are unprecedented times and these changes are also happening within the Planning sector, especially VCAT hearings which traditionally rely heavily on face-to-face hearings. VCAT is currently closed to the public and can only limited amount of cases by phone during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Recently VCAT released two statements in relation to the process of VCAT hearings during the Coronavirus restrictions after new laws been passed this week, making procedural and process changes to enable the courts, corrections and wider legal system to continue to deliver vital justice services while complying with coronavirus related restrictions. This includes a temporary power to make further procedural changes by regulation, so that justice processes can be quickly adapted to changing public health requirements. You can read the full press release by the premier by clicking this link.
Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has a very important role within Victoria’s planning environment. Ensuring VCAT can hear important planning and other matters remotely during this difficult time can ensure billions of dollars’ worth of projects can continue and keep the economy afloat.
As the Premier’s media release stated, work has already started on the $5.2 million upgrades required for VCAT hearings to go digital, which will be rolled out over the next 12 weeks.
The upgrades will include project management software, software programmers, software licenses, information technology hardware and digitisation and scanning of paper files. VCAT will also consider how these upgrades can also help ensure others matters can be heard digitally.
Only urgent matters have been scheduled since late March because of the coronavirus. This has meant that many current and pending matters, especially Planning and Environment List related issues were on hold since.
After the upgrades are completed and tested, VCAT stated directions hearings and less complex matters will generally continue to proceed by telephone. Video technology will only be used for suitable matters. All parties will soon be contacted by VCAT to advise if their matter is to proceed by telephone or video technology. Some matters may also be progressed ‘on the papers’ where possible.
With these matters able to proceed after VCAT gone digital, businesses and individuals will have certainty on their planning and development matters. These projects help create jobs and will support economic activity during the coronavirus crisis.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will my case still be heard?
VCAT is still hearing certain cases, primarily about residential tenancies, guardianship and some critical matters by phone. Other matters, such as planning permit related cases are deemed non-critical have been postponed to a future date to be set.
CS Town Planning are representing a number of clients in VCAT during the pandemic. From our experience, the hearings are likely to proceed “On the Papers” or being postponed to August 2020.
My case has been adjourned, what’s next?
VCAT is currently working out its schedules and how to proceed with these cases. At the moment, limited cases are heard telephone or “On the Papers”.
All parties will be contacted by VCAT to confirm if all parties are agreeable to proceed in such format. From our experience, some cases are better to proceed “On the Papers” to avoid delays.
My case is being heard by phone, what is the process?
VCAT will contact you to let you know the scheduled time for the hearing.
At the time of the hearing, VCAT will contact each party by phone on the number that the party has provided.
A phone hearing is no different to a hearing in person, so ensure you are in a quiet location and have any relevant paperwork at hand.
How can I pay my application or hearing fee?
Application and hearing fees are paid online or by post. Hearing fees can be paid from 4.30pm the day before the hearing. For more information, check fees at VCAT.
I want to change or withdraw my application. What do I do?
To change or withdraw your application, you must let VCAT know in writing.
Is VCAT still accepting new cases that do not involve residential tenancies, guardianship or other critical matters?
VCAT is still accepting any matters, such as planning permit approvals, that fall in VCAT’s jurisdiction.
CS Town Planning also remains operational throughout the pandemic to assist you with your planning needs or to represent you in VCAT.
Given the current circumstances are existing timeframes for applications still relevant?
Yes, current application time limits are still relevant. If you are planning to appeal a council’s decisions made for your planning application. Ensure you contact your town planner within the timeframe.
When will my case be resolved?
If your application is deemed critical, VCAT will schedule a phone hearing date with you.
If your application is not deemed critical your case will be adjourned (postponed) to be heard on a date to be fixed in the future.
At present, VCAT is unable to confirm precise timeframes for non-critical cases. From CS Town Planning’s experience, hearings are likely to be adjourned until August 2020.