A consideration that almost always arises in litigation is the time to trial. This is particularly relevant in retail leasing disputes heard at VCAT, because the parties are usually in an ongoing relationship of landlord and tenant and delay can at times extinguish the subject-matter of the litigation.
For those considering this issue, VCAT has just released an update to practitioners stating that (emphasis added):
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, VCAT transferred from in-person hearings to conducting matters via telephone and videoconference. This has been a substantial change to our way of operating and has resulted in lengthier proceedings, reducing our capacity to hear and determine cases.
We are continually adapting to these changes and making the best use of our limited resources, but unfortunately we have not been able to stop the increase in wait times across all of our Divisions and Lists. This has now resulted in considerable delays.
For claims relating to building and property, new matters are currently being listed for a final hearing around 37 to 53 weeks from the date of application.
Many matters may not need to proceed to a final hearing. VCAT has been encouraging parties in most cases to attend a mediation or compulsory conference to try and resolve disputes sooner. These methods have been successful in resolving almost half of our cases within the last financial year.
Nonetheless, we understand the impact and frustration these delays can cause and are working hard to try and reduce these backlogs. VCAT is currently developing or trialling a range of methods to hear more cases within our capacity limits, as well as receiving investment from the Victorian Government to increase our digitisation program.
We thank you for your understanding during this difficult time.
Retail tenancy dispute fall within the Building and Property List, so are subject to these wait times.
The impact of these wait times will vary from case-to-case, but all practitioners with current retail tenancy disputes at VCAT or who are considering commencing those proceedings for their clients should be aware of these wait times.
(And no, the CTRS Regulations have not come out yet.)
This post originally appeared on samhopperbarrister.com