The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act has been recently amended and has now come into effect. Significant changes in particular are made with respect to the role of expert witnesses in VCAT matters.
The VCAT Amendment Act introduces a number of reforms to the powers of VCAT Tribunals. Among the reforms includes the power for VCAT fees to be ordered to be paid by and unsuccessful party. Importantly it also involves significant changes to the roles and powers with respect to expert witnesses.
The main objectives are to provide the Tribunal with case management powers in relation to the taking of expert evidence.
Among the reforms, powers now given to the Tribunal are:
- Directions may be given as to the preparation of an Expert Report; the time for service of the Report; limiting the range of evidence to be given by an expert, and limiting the number of expert witnesses who might be called in relation to a particular issue.
- The Tribunal may appoint their own experts and may also direct that a conference of experts take place; that experts prepare a Joint Experts Report and hold a conference for that purpose
- Significantly the Tribunal may also, if it chooses, order that a conference of experts take place without the parties or their legal practitioners being present!
- The Amending Act also gives the Tribunal broad discretion in how expert evidence may be given at a Hearing including having the experts attend together and give concurrent evidence; allow an expert to comment and give their opinion on the evidence of another expert, having each issue dealt with separately and with each party’s experts giving evidence and being cross-examined in respect of that particular issue and allowing an expert to ask questions of any other expert giving evidence. The process may also mean that the Tribunal is able to have more than one expert giving evidence at the same time.
These reforms, and in particular the reforms with respect to expert evidence, are novel and far reaching and there will be interesting times ahead as Tribunals at VCAT exercise their various powers in relation to the giving of experts evidence.