The Australian Administrative Appeals Tribunal

A visit was made to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal at 55 Market Street, for obtaining an understanding of how tribunals function, and for gaining exposure to the practice of merits review.

The hearing for Palermo and Australian Postal Corporation was scheduled for 10am on the 8th of August 2007. On arriving at the conference room, it was apparent that many students had chosen to visit the tribunal and seats had run out. The tribunal officer prepared another room which was large enough to accommodate everyone. This struck me as considerate, and also brought attention to the casualness of the procedures.

When the hearing commenced, the room stood as the member entered. The member present was Dr John Campbell, and the parties involved were Mrs Imelda Palermo and Australian Postal Corporation. Mrs Palermo had a barrister and a solicitor representing her, and was accompanied by her husband. Australian Postal Corporation had a team consisting of one barrister and two solicitors. The matter concerned compensation for a right shoulder injury sustained during employment.

The applicant started by describing the facts surrounding the matter and then went on to submit to the member new evidence, as tribunals allow cases to be considered de novo, unlike courts. The member then assigned numbers to the files and allowed the respondent to also submit evidence.

After the applicant had described the facts, the respondent addressed the member wanting to make clear that Mrs Palermo was not seeking any compensation in the current matter. And if this was so, the declaratory relief she was seeking could not be given as Australian Postal Corporation was not bound to follow the decision of the tribunal.

In response to this, the applicant then made clear that declaratory relief was not being sought here but an establishment of the fact that the injuries suffered had originated at the workplace and was not a pre-existing condition. Therefore, when the assessment is made in court, there would be no need for further medical scrutiny.

On noting this, I realised that neither the respondent nor the member was aware of the applicant’s intentions. It was only then made clear that the applicant intended to bring the matter up to the courts, and was only using the tribunal to establish issues of medical facts. As this was the main issue to be argued by the applicant, this may have affected the respondent’s argument and also may have annulled her preparations for the case.

At 2pm, the tribunal performed a phone interview with Dr Breit, who had submitted a medical report used by the applicant as. Taking evidence from the Doctor over the phone in conjunction with his report can be contrasted with the taking of evidence from an expert witness in court. The courts would require for the Doctor to be present, whereas in this case, the interview was conducted over the phone. This allowed the Doctor to continue with his work but still retained the integrity of the evidence. I find this an efficient method of taking evidence, and falls inline with the aims of the tribunal to be fast and efficient. This is of course assuming that the identity of the person on the phone is not in doubt.

With regards to the two major observations discussed above, the revelation of the issue to be discussed only on the day of the hearing, and the conducting of the phone interview, they show an advantage and disadvantage of the tribunal process. That the main issue being argued by the applicant was not known to the respondent would have diminished the ability of the respondent to argue the case, therefore reducing the efficacy of the proceedings and maybe even prolonging it. On the other hand, the use of a phone interview allowed the proceedings to be more efficient and streamlined.

Overall, the tribunal process used is advantageous and brings efficacy to the decision making process, however one has to be aware of its shortcomings. When used as a precursor to a court hearing, the advantages of both systems can be brought together to achieve a quick but thoroughly examined decision.