The Disputes Tribunal process

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The Disputes Tribunal is a unique form of dispute resolution which is designed to be both cost-efficient, speedy and above-all, easy to access for all people. So what is the Tribunal and what can it do for you?

Types of case

The Tribunal has wide jurisdiction to deal with low level disputes and will commonly deal with contractual and quasi contractual issues, neighbourly disputes and consumer complaints.

There are some limitations in what the Tribunal can hear however. The most important ones to be aware of are:

  • The Tribunal can only hear claims to the value of $15,000 or up to $20,000 if both parties agree. A single cause of action cannot be divided into two claims just to bring it within the threshold.
  • There must be an actual dispute involved; either relating to the material facts or the relevant legislation. This means you cannot use the Tribunal to enforce a debt if the debtor is refusing to pay but does not dispute that they owe you a debt.
  • The Tribunal does not have jurisdiction to hear certain types of cases including relationship property, land ownership, wills, employment or parenting matters. This applies even if the claim is for under the $15,000 threshold.

The application

You need to fill out a Tribunal form outlining the parties to the dispute and the general background to the dispute and then file it with the local Tribunal. The cost of filing a claim depends on the amount you are claiming, but ranges from $45 to $180. Your matter will then be allocated a hearing time and the other party will be notified of the claim (and given the opportunity to make a counterclaim).

The cost of filing a claim depends on the amount you are claiming, but ranges from $45 to $180.

Before the hearing

Your matter will be heard before a referee who has been selected due to their expertise in dispute resolution. The Tribunal is not a court and accordingly you cannot be represented by a lawyer. However you can consult a lawyer before the hearing to help you put together the evidence and the best legal argument to support your case.

You are allowed to submit written submissions in advance of your hearing, and file any supporting evidence such as emails, photographs or receipts. However you must provide a copy of your submissions and any supporting documentation to the other side in advance of the hearing.

You can call witnesses including expert witnesses. For example, if your claim relates to a mechanic doing a faulty repair job, you could call an experienced witness (such as a mechanic) to explain the faults.

At the hearing

At the start of the hearing, the referee will explain the procedure and rules of the hearing. The referee will then give each party the opportunity to explain their version of the dispute and ask questions of the other side. The referee may also ask questions of either party.

The decision

The referee will encourage the parties to settle the dispute between themselves. When this is not possible, the referee will give a binding decision in favour of one party. The focus of the Tribunal is the substantial merits and justice of the case having regard to the law. Therefore the Tribunal can make a decision that is contrary to the law but in line with the substantial merit of the case.

A referee can make various orders including orders that an amount of money be paid, property be returned or work carried out to remedy a situation. These orders can be enforced though the District Court if necessary.

A party can only appeal a decision of the Tribunal on the grounds of procedural unfairness such as not being allowed to question a witness. It is not possible to appeal simply because you are unhappy with the decision.

If you have any questions about the Disputes Tribunal process, please contact one of our dispute resolution team.