The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal is poised to begin resolving planning and development disputes online after selecting Immediation as its dispute resolution platform during COVID.
The tribunal entered an arrangement with the Sydney-based legaltech startup this month, with as many as 1000 matters expected to be heard on the platform in the next three months.
VCAT, which finalises more than 83,000 civil and administrative legal cases outside the court system each year, has been looking for a digital service for dispute resolution since 2018.
Such a platform was expected to improve citizen access to justice services, particularly for those with a disability or “experiencing the tyranny of distance”, from 2022.
It followed a 2016 review, which found access to justice was “diminishing” and the gap between the justice system’s ability to meet the community’s needs “growing”.
But the need for online dispute resolution rapidly climbed the to-do list this year, with courts and tribunals drastically scaling up virtual means to continue hearings amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In response, VCAT received $5.2 million for new software and hardware to ensure planning and development dispute hearings could continue during the pandemic.
The IT upgrades are expected to prevent billions of dollars’ worth of projects from becoming held up, and to give businesses and individuals certainty on their matters.
Temporary laws were passed in April to allow courts and other legal authorities, including VCAT, to operate remotely in some circumstances while COVID is ongoing.
VCAT CEO Mary Amiridis said the deal with Immediation will “ensure Victorians continue to have access to justice during these challenging times”.
Immediation founder and managing director Laura Keily, who is also a corporate barrister, said the coronavirus pandemic had accelerated the uptake of court and tribunal technology.
“The current global climate has required industries that have traditionally been slow to adopt technology to reassess their ways of working,” she said.
Keily also expects that online dispute resolution platforms like Immediation will become a permanent fixture of courts and tribunals in the post-COVID world.
“Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll see the normalisation of platforms like Immediation, as both the legal industry and the community at large realise the role technology can play in the delivery of justice,” she said.
“It’s a well overdue move that will benefit all.”
Immediation is a purpose-built video conferencing platform for hosting mediation and hearings online. It offers separate virtual rooms allowing the mediator and plaintiff to speak privately.
The Federal Court of Australia, the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court also recently selected Immediation as its online dispute resolution platform.