The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal will receive more than $5 million in IT upgrades over the next 12 weeks to get planning and development dispute hearings back up and running.
The tribunal, which has scheduled only injunctions and other urgent matters since late March, will use the funding for new software, including for project management, and hardware.
It has spent the past couple of weeks trialling technologies in light of COVID-19 to allow planning and environment matters, as well as potentially other matters, to be heard remotely.
The $5.2 million funding package will also fund software programmers and the digitisation and scanning of paper files, the government said.
The upgrades are expected to prevent billions of dollars’ worth of projects from becoming held up and give businesses and individuals certainty on their planning and development matters.
VCAT hears and decides civil and administrative legal cases outside of the court system, without the need for legal support.
It has been investigating online dispute resolution since at least 2018 to improve citizen access to justice services, though the proposed service was not expected to go live until 2022.
“We’re giving VCAT the resources and the ability to continue their vital work remotely – delivering access to justice for all Victorians while we respond to the challenges of physical distancing during coronavirus,” Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said.
The upgrades follow the passage of new temporary laws last week that allow courts and other legal systems, including VCAT, to operate remotely in some circumstances during the pandemic.
The COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act also allows councils, parliamentary committees and planning panels to conduct meetings and hearings remotely.
Victoria’s Supreme Court and County Court are also currently testing virtual courtroom technology after in-person hearings and trials were suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.