Queensland Justice of the Peace (JP’s) are residing over minor civil disputes in Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunals (QCAT) as part of a state government trial.
The initiative enabled trained JP’s to be appointed to QCAT to hear and adjudicate in a variety of minor civil disputes. This included residential tenancy disputes, dividing fence disputes, minor debts and consumer and trader disputes.
Both legally qualified and non-legally trained JP’s were appointed as part of the trial with two JP’s adjudicating over minor disputes up to the value of $5000. The panel of JP’s must feature one legally qualified JP to reside over the proceedings.
Legal professionals considered the use of JP’s as a cost cutting initiative that impacted negatively on the fairness of the judicial process. Queensland Law Society President John De Groot believes that it has not been proven that JP’s have the legal training necessary to understand the rules of law and principles of evidence.
“The society would be supportive of initiatives to have more people with appropriate legal experience to deal with these matters,” Mr De Groot said.
However, Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Jarrod Bleijie believes that the program is a testament to the professionalism and experience of Queensland JP’s
“In the past 18 months, we have engaged heavily with the wider JP community rolling out more professional development courses than ever before as well as making other improvements to the JP system including refocusing the JP Branch to better assist and support all our JPs,” Mr Bleijie said
“Feedback from JPs has been very positive and I would like to thank them all for their continued contribution”
The program intended to provide justice by decreasing the times and costs associated with minor civil disputes by reducing the backlog of claims.
“During the trial, the overall time to hear certain QCAT matters has almost halved with adjudicators now able to focus on more complex matters,” Mr Bleijie said.
The Manager of Corporate Communications for The Queensland Law Society Natalie Graeff, believes that it is inaccurate for QCAT disputes to be labelled as legally uncomplicated.
“The term ‘minor civil dispute’ in QCAT matters doesn’t mean that the matters are not legally challenging,” Ms Graeff said.
“For example, issues relating to the Neighbourhood Disputes Act and building matters have considerable elements of complexity and often involve reliance on expert evidence.”
Brisbane Property Manager Jaimee Julian has been working in the real estate industry for almost fifteen years and has had numerous experiences representing her clients at QCAT.
She believes that the JP’s appointed for residential tenancy disputes do not have the necessary experience in the real-estate industry to pass judgment on tenancy issues.
“One hearing I went to the two JP’s sat and argued each other’s decision and referred to the RTA Act in every issue that was raised. It took so much time and the end result was in the favour of the tenants. This was ludicrous considering the state they left the property (photos and Exit report provided) they should have not been awarded their bond back at all,” said Ms Julian.
“I think if the JP’s are going to be the new way QCAT are going, then they need to know the RTA Act and what section refers to what hearing… JP’s just award what they feel seems “reasonable or fair” whereas the adjudicators have a better understanding of the Residential Tenancies Act.”
The Source News contacted the media office of the Queensland Civil Administrative Tribunals for comment but they were unable to respond by our deadline.
A post- trial evaluation and report was completed in March this year. The JP trial is continuing while the report is evaluated by the state Attorney- General.