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Directions mandatory, not aspirational

QCAT President Justice Mellifont reminded practitioners to be aware of their obligations to comply with directions. Photo: File

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” Douglas Adams

On 31 May 2023, Her Honour Justice Mellifont, President of the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, thought it timely to remind practitioners of their obligations to comply with the directions of the Tribunal.

Her honour asked practitioners to, “… do their very, very best to ensure that they comply with their statutory obligations … to file their responses on time, and to comply with the directions that are set by this tribunal”.

Her Honour went on to ask practitioners, “… to be very careful in setting timeframes so that you know you can meet them, and for you to allocate your own work resources and say yes or no to work in order to be able to meet those timeframes”.

Notwithstanding this request, and similar ones made subsequently by the President and the Deputy President, QCAT continues to experience repeated and frequent incidents of non-compliance with directions, including by experienced practitioners.    

It could be argued that such requests should not be necessary. All solicitors have an obligation to perform their work competently, diligently and promptly.1 That clearly includes complying with the directions issued by the tribunal, and only seeking extensions when they are genuinely warranted – and of course being realistic when giving estimates as to how long certain steps might take.

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Many moons ago I attended a conference, and one of the presenters was a seasoned judge; he noted the only time he was certain he was being lied to was in morning chambers, when lawyers were providing estimates of how long their matter would take. While that may be a touch cynical, it is fair to say that we can all be overly optimistic when it comes to timeframes, and thus effort must be given to ensuring our suggestions are realistic rather than optimistic.

In addition, practitioners must keep in mind that QCAT is an arena in which self-represented litigants make up a large portion of the advocates, and also one in which the solicitor’s branch of the profession tends to feature more prominently.

That means that QLS members will have to take the lead on this; our duty to the court and the administration of justice mandates that we show leadership on this issue and model the way for self-represented and other litigants.

We must heed the President’s words and ensure, as far as is possible, that we meet deadlines and respect, in word and deed, the orders of QCAT and its members.

It is noteworthy that section 213 of the QCAT Act provides that it is an offence to contravene a direction of the Tribunal without reasonable excuse and section 218 provides that commission of such an offence is a circumstance in which a person may be in contempt of the Tribunal.  

The President made it clear in her address that she sought to place no blame or shame on anyone, but rather wanted things to get better, noting “I am not seeking for lengthy apologies from anybody today about non-compliance with directions, I just want to move to the future”.

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Anyone who works regularly in QCAT will know the huge volume of work which flows through the place, and understand that it needs all participants working together to be efficient. Solicitors can do their bit by setting the best possible example, by providing reasonable estimates and fulfilling them.

Footnotes
1 See Rule 4 of the Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules 2012

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