Queensland Law Society

No fair fight when David meets Goliath before tribunal

Date 19 Jan 2012
Contact Natalie Graeff, Manager Corporate Communication
Phone (07) 3842 5868
Mobile 0488 433 884
Fax 07 3221 9329
Email n.graeff@qls.com.au

Queensland Law Society is calling for major changes to the State’s civil and administrative tribunal that handles more than 30,000 cases each year.

Generally, those appearing before the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) must be self-represented and cannot have a legal advocate appear for them.

Society deputy president Annette Bradfield said the situation had the potential to cause miscarriage of justice on a significant scale.

“For example, if you’re a home owner and have a dispute with your builder over tens of thousands of dollars, you have to appear before court on your own,” Ms Bradfield said.

“Now the large organisation at the other end of the dispute can only have one representative as well, but it’s more than likely this would be the contracts manager, or even a technical specialist who has expertise in these matters.

“How is that fair to the average person who doesn’t have that expertise to have their arguments weighted against these professionals?

“We’re calling on the State’s political parties, in the lead-up to the election, to make a commitment to pass legislation that will enable Queenslanders a right to legal representation before QCAT for matters in excess of $15,000.

“It’s only fair to the 30,000 people who use the tribunal’s services each year.”

Ms Bradfield said the pro bono service saw many cases that were essentially a David versus Goliath battle.

“It’s understandable to want to service the community and see justice done swiftly, but it must also be fair and reasonable.

“To pitch a worker against a multinational, or a small business against a shopping centre conglomerate, or a consumer against a retail giant, with no access to legal advocacy before the tribunal, doesn’t make sense.

“The act of appearing in the formal tribunal setting is intimidating enough without denying people the right to have their solicitor by their side.”

The QCAT issue is one of 11 legal and social concerns contained in a recently released Queensland Law Society issues paper sent to the State’s political parties.