The origin of the tribunal dates back to the Roman tribune, whose task was to stand between plebeian citizens and patrician magistrates. This interesting historical fact is pointed out by the Hon. Justice Garry Downes AM, President of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in his informative article on “Tribunals in Australia : Their Roles and Responsibilities”.
Today tribunals fulfil an increasingly important and valuable role in Australian society. Since the establishment of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in 1975, their scope has developed to such an extent that the Australian tribunal system now has arguably the widest powers of any tribunal system in the world.
The three main functions of Australian tribunals are to review administrative decisions, to provide civil dispute resolution services, and to deal with human rights matters. Both State and Federal tribunals review administrative decisions, however only State entities can provide civil dispute resolution services. Federal tribunals cannot fulfil this function because the Australian constitution separates powers between the arms of government, and prevents the Executive arm (of which tribunals are a part) from issuing orders.
In recent years, Australian States have legislated for a growing range of tribunal jurisdictions. In most States, the operation of these tribunals has been consolidated into ‘supertribunals’ in order to leverage economies of scale, improve consistency of outcomes, and streamline services for citizens. This started in 1998 with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) which has proved to be a great success. This example was followed by QCAT in Queensland, SAT in Western Australia and ACAT in ACT. On 1st January 2014, NCAT will also come into operation for NSW.
Over the years, tribunals have become an increasingly important part of the Australian justice system. They provide citizens with an independent and impartial review of government decisions that affect their interests. They also reduce the burden on a congested civil court system, an important benefit as the country becomes ever more litigious. Every year tribunals provide relatively simple, low-cost access to a swift and fair justice service for hundreds of thousands of citizens and corporations across Australia.
In future we expect to see our tribunal system continue to extend the breadth of its jurisdictions, develop its range of services, and the improve the efficiency of its operations.
All thanks to some clever old Romans.
Tribunals in Australia : Their Roles and Responsibilities by Hon Justice Garry Downes AM, president of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, published in the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Journal
The Rise and Rise of Tribunals by The Hon Justice Michael Barker, Judge, Supreme Court of Western Australia and President, State Administrative Tribunal, Western Australia